Spain at Christmas. It seemed like a bit of a non-sequiter at first…not exactly the first destination that springs to mind for the holidays. Christmas in Switzerland sure…but Spain?
Well as incongruous as it might seem…I’ll add my two pesetas (or Euro cents I suppose) and say that Spain is a brilliant location for your winter break; especially if you are traveling with kids.
Spain had always been a favorite summer spot for me but I was thrilled to rediscover it on our most recent trip this December and January. Here are some of my favorite finds and lessons learned to help any one planning for the holidays of 2013!
Find 1: Chocolate con churros or ensaimadas!
Lesson 1: Ask how big a ration is!
I have always been a HUGE fan of Spanish pastries. Churros in mainland spain and ensaimada’s in the Balearic islands (Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza) rank tops with me. In the winter, the thick chocolate that accompanies them for dipping is even more welcome than in the hot summer months. Just be careful when ordering your churros to ask how many constitutes a “ration”, lest you end up being “forced” to eat 12.
Find 2. Living or mechanical Belen.
Lesson 2. Expect a slow moving line.
Kids seem to love the mechanical or living nativity scenes that crop up in almost every Spanish town square or municipal building at Christmas. A Belen is actually more than a nativity… it is a complete Bethlehem…full of shepherds, inn-keepers, stores and pastoral tableaus that surround the central manger with expectant Mary and Joseph.
In the mechanical Belens, you can expect a Blacksmith’s shop with little glowing embers or a sheep herder waving his staff. It’s great fun to look for the dynamic characters among the stationary but be warned…these are popular attractions and after waiting on line, visitors are likely to take their time observing the scenes.
Find 3: Christmas markets and fairs.
Lesson 3: Just because the sun’s gone down, doesn’t mean the kids have!
In addition to offering a relatively temperate climate, Spain boasts an impressive array of cultural festivities and Christmas markets to rival its northern neighbors. Lights and artisan’s stalls are often accompanied by a number of rides and games to suit all ages.
And in find Spanish tradition, even though the attractions appeal mostly to kids, the party doesn’t really start until after the sun goes down. Our favorite attraction was in Granada: a wooden carousel, powered only by a hard peddling man on an attached bicycle!
Find 4: Come for Christmas, stay for New Year and 3 Kings.
Lesson 4: DUCK!
The party is only just getting started on December 25th. New Year’s eve celebrations are very family friendly in Spain….as long as you remember to duck when the Cava bottles are popped. It is not unusual at all to see kids of all ages in the town square at midnight, shoveling down the traditional 12 grapes in time with the 12 bell tolls (much harder than it looks).
And if you can, try to stay on until January 5th, when the three kings or “Reyes Magos” come into town accompanied by an enormous parade. We caught ours in Seville and were lucky enough to be in a hotel along the parade route which helped escape the crowds. But even sheltering in the vestibule, you need to be wary! Every parade float is full of eager and excited kids tossing, no pelting, candies into the crowd. A hard candy or two to the noggin is to be expected.