Thursday, December 15, 2016

Christmas in Spain {and Polvorones Recipe}

Christmas time in the US is a well known holiday everywhere as the traditions are often shown in movies and TV shows. That's why we wanted to tell you how the holidays are celebrated in Spain.

Christmas in Spain is heavily influenced by catholicism. Even if you are not a religious person, as in my case, most of the Spanish traditions and decorations have their roots in Jesus' birth. And even though many Spaniards define themselves as non-practicing or agnostic, we still follow these traditions just because it takes us back to our childhood, to our abuela's kitchen and sleepovers with our cousins.     

One of the differences between Christmas in America and many other places is the duration of Christmas. In Spain, despite some company dinners a week before or so, it really starts on Chirstmas eve, the 24th, and it goes until el Día de Reyes, on January 6th.   

Nowadays, decorations involve Christmas trees with ornaments, garlands and colorful lights, but it's pretty new. Back in the day, the only decoration was a Nacimiento or Belén in the living room or hall. These nativity scenes are often mesmerizing, with little figures of people and animals, houses, trees, mountains with snow... My abuelita used to set up the most amazing one, as big as a dinning table and some years it even had running water for its streams!

But over 40 years ago, when the dictatorship ended, Spain opened up. European and American traditions started influencing our culture more and more. Now, both Christmas trees and Nacimientos are seen in many homes.

Another difference with the US are the streets' decorations. In the US people decorate their front yards, but the streets themselves are not as decorated as in Spain (or at least here in Oregon). There, city halls place decorations and lights in their main streets, even in the teeny tiniest villages. In Madrid, where I am from, streets during Christmas look pretty amazing. The main avenues are covered with colorful lights creating figures and patterns. It is just beautiful!
Traditionally, kids used to recieve their gifts only the night of January 5th, the day los Reyes Magos (the Three Wise Men) came. They come riding their camels and surrounded by many paiges and leave toys and other goodies in (or near) the chidren's shoes. The little ones have to polish their shoes the day before so the three kings see that they are good kids.

On the evening of January 6th every town, big or small, has a Cabalgata de Reyes, where los Reyes Magos parade through town and throw candy to the kids. The ones in Madrid and Barcelona are really big and are usually aired on national TV.

Now, Papá Noel (Santa Claus) also visits most of the homes. It makes sense if you think about it. Kids used to get their toys right at the end of their Christmas break! With this new trend, not only they get two rounds of gifts, they also are entertained the entire break. And they are still nice, otherwise los Reyes Magos will bring them some coal!    

Spaniards celebrate 5 meals: dinner on Nochebuena (Christmas eve), lunch on Navidad (Christmas), dinner on Nochevieja (New Year's eve), Lunch on Año Nuevo (New Year) and merienda (snack between lunch and dinner) on Día de Reyes (Epiphany).

Spanish food is very diverse and it changes a lot from region to region. Thus, there is not a uniform menu on Christmas. Typical dishes for the lunches and dinners include: lamb, suckling pig, sea bream, shelfish and other seafood... 

But the star of Christmas gastronomy is, definetly, dessert. There are many treats, most of them almond based, and they are usually served as a assortment in a big tray. One of this trays often includes: Turrón -made of honey, sugar, and toasted almonds and usually shaped into either a rectangle-, Marzipan figurines, Polvorones -my favorite (see the recipe below)-, dried fruits, jordan almods...

Another sweet goodness is enjoyed on the Día de Reyes merienda. Roscón de Reyes is a cake in the shape of a crown decorated with sugar, almods and candied fruit.

Some curious facts:

  • There is a big lottery draw on december 22nd that everyone plays. There are many many prizes. Some big, but most of the small, so there are a lot of winners all over the country.
  • In Catalonia, the nativity scene includes a caracter called caganer, that means, literally, 'pooper'. It is a man wearing the traditional barretina (red hat), with his pants down, and... He is pooping! Sometimes it represents a famous soccer player or a politician. This year the trend is, can you guess? Trump! 
  • On New Year's eve, Spaniards eat 12 grapes at midnight at each of the 12 bell gongs. We then cheer with cava (or chapangne) and wish everyone a happy new year.

Olive Oil Polvorones

Polvorones are originally from Andalusia, but they are enjoyed all over the country on Christmas time. Usually, the main ingredients are pork lard (or another fat), flour and almonds. The name polvorón, from polvo (dust), points out on the fact that these little cakes crumble easily into a kind of dust in the mouth. It might sound weird, but it is pleasant and delicious. They are so fragile that they are usually sold wrapped, so they don't fall apart.

Today, we are sharing the recipe that uses olive oil (instead of lard). They are so good ... And vegan! 

Ingredients: (Yield about 12 polvorones)

  • 1 1/2 cups all propose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated raw almond
  • 3/4 cup ground almond
  • 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar plus some more to decorate
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup olive oil


Set the oven to 180 F. Dry the flour for 25 min in a tray, stiring often.

Meanwhile, in a pan, toast the the ground almond stirring constantly. Repeat the process with the granulated almond.

Once all these ingredients are ready and cooled down, mix them with the confectioners' sugar, cinammon, sesame seeds and, finally, olive oil until a uniform consistency is acheived.

Roll the dough and cut it with oval (or round) cookie cutters. Set aside for 2h.

Bake at 350 F for 15 min or until golden.

Sparkle with confectioners' sugar.

Gently remove from the baking sheet when they cool down. They break easily!

Enjoy! And Happy Holidays!

Christmas in Different Lands 2015 | Multicultural Kid Blogs

Welcome to our fourth annual Christmas in Different Lands series! This year each participating blogger will focus on a different country, sharing a traditional dish and more about Christmas in that country. For even more glimpses of global Christmas celebrations, see our series from previous years (2013, 2014, and 2015), plus follow our Christmas board on Pinterest!

December 9 Creative World of Varya: Lebanon
December 15 Let the Journey Begin: Latvia Spanglish Monkey: Spain
December 16 Pack-n-Go Girls: Austria
December 19 Mom Hats and More: USA
December 20 Multicultural Baby: Paraguay
December 21 La Clase de Sra. DuFault: Chile
December 23 All Done Monkey: Haiti
Celebrate Christmas Around the World Printable Pack from Multicultural Kid Blogs
Don't miss our other posts about Christmas in different lands, plus our printable pack Celebrate Christmas Around the World, on sale now!