One of the best times to visit Spain is during the winter, when the hoards of summer beach goers and festival backpackers have all said adiós. The winter chill has set in and the menus have changed reflecting more wintry, hearty dishes. The holiday season is my favorite time of year in Spain for many reasons but mostly because there are so many things going on and activities to enjoy. The towns come alive with lights strung around all the public squares and local light displays down all the main streets. It really gets you in the mood.
1. Understand Spanish holiday dates
Christmas is by no means the biggest holiday of the year in Spain, unlike many other countries in the world. Easter is by far the most widely celebrated festival of the calendar year, and in December and January, Christmas is eclipsed by Reyes Magos, or Three Kings Day that is celebrated on January 6. This is one of my favorite things about the holiday season in Spain - it feels like Christmas goes on for 2 weeks!
2. Book early
Speaking as one who has tried to fly back and forth between the US and Spain during the holidays, I can’t preach enough the importance of booking early. While these may be peak travel times around the whole world, it’s especially true for Spain and Europe in general. Your best bet is to have some flexibility with your schedule so you can get the best deal and buy those flights as far in advance as you can. The rest you can sort out later.
3. Reyes is the bigger holiday
Reyes Magos is the more popular of the winter holidays in Spain, and actually it’s the day when children get to open their presents. There are usually parades and opportunities to spend time outside enjoying the atmosphere in the streets while kids eat candy and ask their favorite king for a gift. It’s important to remember that most everything shuts down in Spain between Christmas and Reyes, so things like public transportation will be limited and it can be challenging getting places. It’s best to find a city and stay there on each of the holiday dates, instead of moving around a lot.
4. It’s different from holidays back in the US
The holidays in the US have become very commercialized over the years; with a lot of emphasis on gift-giving and decorating. In Spain, like many of the festivals, the winter holidays are much more focused on the family. Though it changes every year, it is very common to return home for the holidays and to give less gifts. There are also many different traditions. For example on New Year’s Eve it’s tradition in Spain to eat 12 grapes at midnight. Just remember to pull the seeds out first!
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