Saturday, December 28, 2013

American Christmas vs. Spanish Christmas

The Christmas season is my favorite time of the year. I love the cold weather, the decorations and the general happy feeling everyone has. I have been lucky enough to be able to spend Christmas in 3 different countries. My first year abroad I was in Bologna, Italy and last year I was in Bethlehem, Palestine. Both very different and very enjoyable! This year, I decided it was time I spent my favorite holiday with my own family. Since I haven't been home in such a long time it made me start to really look at the differences between Spain and the US in regards to Christmas.

My family and me, together after many years apart!


One of my family’s traditions is going to look at Christmas lights. There is a house close to mine in Colorado that has SO many decorations outside. Dolls, lights, trains, music. Literally, their entire yard is covered with lights and moving pieces. Just driving around you can see some incredible house decorations. And what would Christmas be without the tree? Everyone here has a tree that they decorate. We have always had a live one which adds a great smell to the room!

Our tree in Colorado
A house in our neighborhood
A very decorated house
Decorations in Spain, while very pretty, don’t compare to decorations in the US. The center of every city is nicely decorated and often has a tree. Some of the side streets might have lights as well. But, people generally don’t decorate the outside of their houses. Inside decorations are different, too. The most popular decoration in Spain is a nativity scene. Months before the holiday season the stores fill with little parts to build your belen. Some of them are really intricate and include a real river! The trees are not as important here.

The center in Valencia
In Valencia
A nativity scene in my school in Almeria


This is a big part for both countries. In the United States people usually have a huge meal on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day resembling Thanksgiving. Typically, it is a turkey or a ham. One of my favorite things to do around this holiday is bake A LOT and decorate cookies. I think this is why people generally gain a lot of weight during the holidays. Winking smile

Yummy cookies
The holiday food in Spain is not that different than the US. Turkeys are becoming more popular, so a lot of people eat turkey dinners. My favorite part is the sweets! Starting mid November the grocery stores clear their shelves for the holiday treats. Polvorones, a sweet crumbly almond cookie and turron de almendras, a hard or soft nougat with marcona almonds are my favorite. (Click the links for recipes). The king’s cake is also a really fun and delicious part of Christmas in Spain.


Turron de almendras
Bringer of the presents:

Weird title I know. But, it was the easiest way to explain the difference. Everyone knows it’s all about Santa in the US. Kids start making lists for him early in the year. All the decorations include a Santa and lots of arts and crafts are about him.

This is starting to change a little in Spain. But, for them the Reyes Magos (The Three Wise men) bring the presents! Working in the elementary school in Almeria was always fun to go back after winter break and hear what different gifts the kids got from which king. This is also an added bonus for an American expat, because the Christmas break doesn’t end until after 3 King’s Day!

So, who is the winner? Maybe it’s because I grew up in the US, but I am going to have to stick with my mother land on this one. I just love the whole atmosphere of Christmas in the US a lot better than Spain. But of course you be the judge.


  1. Do you have any pictures of the parade from Three Kings Day in Valencia? I'd be interested to see them

    1. I'm working on it now! This first week back at work was a little crazy so I had to put the blog on the back burner.