Christmas markets in Spain and their traditions are long-established and family-oriented. Street markets offer traditional sweets and Nativity figurines, while cities vie to provide the most elaborate light shows. Seasonal fiestas and markets get into full swing from mid-November onwards.
While German Christmas markets have conquered most of Europe, this one nation maintains a stubborn resistance. Spain remains oblivious to the temptations of grilled bratwurst and gluhwein simply because its own festive market and fiesta tradition is long-established and still very popular with families from Seville to Santander celebrating Navidad.
TOP SPANISH CHRISTMAS MARKETS:
As in many countries, Spain directs most of the festive attention towards children, with markets geared towards providing toys, gifts and the all-important Nativity scene figures. These miniatures are prized, as each household and store creates their own spectacular Belén (Bethlehem) displays based around the Messiah, manger and Magi scene.
Spanish Christmas Market Festivities, Sweets, and More
The other specialties dominating the Spanish street stalls from November onwards are the traditional sweets and candies associated with the festive season. Turron, the sweet nougat that takes over every Spanish house at Christmas, used to be either the soft variety made from almonds and honey, from the Valencian town of Jijona, or the crunchy almond brittle of Alicante. Now it comes in countless versions, including rich and elaborate chocolate ganache varieties. Mantecados are sweet biscuits made from lard, while polvorones are powdery small pastries, often flavored with aniseed. Both are beautifully wrapped in traditional tissue paper decorations.
In the capital Madrid, from the last weekend in November onwards, everyone heads to the major market in the Plaza Mayor to add to their collection of Belén figures, along with costumes and party accessories for the Christmas celebrations. A slightly more bohemian and independent spirit prevails at the craft market on Plaza Espana, where artisans offer unique creations from their workshops.
In Barcelona, the Fira de Santa Llúcia has been taking place in the city’s Barri Gotic, close to the cathedral, since 1786. That makes it the oldest Christmas market in Spain and it remains a highlight of the Catalan calendar. More than 200 stalls offer decorations, festive accessories, sweets and hot drinks.
A large percentage of visitors are probably shopping for that year’s coolest caganer. This Belén figure is a Catalan tradition dating back a couple of centuries and involves a character lurking at the back of the scene dropping their pants to answer an urgent call of nature. Unsurprisingly the lavatorial humor is particularly appealing to children, although in recent years, a note of satire has crept in with caganer depictions of footballers, Spanish politicians, even Donald Trump.
Seville saves most of its festive spectaculars for Semana Santa at Easter, but Christmas brings the Feria del Belén to the city center, near the cathedral, for a month’s hectic trade from mid-November. Nativity figures are the main attraction, but Christmas trees are also popular in Seville, a city that relishes the occasional December chill as a contrast to the usual Andalucian heat.
For a more garish and spectacular display, Andalucia can be relied on to deliver, notably in Málaga where the lavish illuminations are turned on at the start of November, offering one of Europe’s largest light-shows.
Calle Larios is the centerpiece, lit up with tens of thousands of bulbs, broadly themed around a festive forest bedecked with angels and stars. Giant Christmas trees are erected around the city center, with sound and music shows outside the Muelle Uno chapel. One particularly Andalucian tradition is the patio decoration festival, with the serene old squares of the Trinidad district competing to showcase the best nativity scene.
It wouldn’t be a Spanish fiesta though without a gastronomic element. The Sabor a Málaga event is a four-day celebration of local produce, notably cheeses, chorizo, hams, honey and chocolates. Not to mention about a hundred varieties of the inevitable turron, as necessary to a Spanish Christmas as gluhwein is to the Germans.
For reliably low temperatures, Santiago De Compostela, in the northwest province of Galicia, has the perfect weather for donning chunky knitwear and warming the hands with some roast chestnuts from a street seller. Families wander the streets, admiring the displays in local bakeries, usually involving a Belén scene and an elaborate Roscón de Reyes, the ring-shaped festive bread cake decorated in festive red and green.
Most cities in Spain make an effort with their festive street lights, but the narrow stone-slabbed lanes of Santiago’s old quarter and the tasteful, twinkling lights strung across every narrow street exert a particular charm.
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