Christmas Eve is known in Spanish as Nochebuena, a night where families get together to share a meal. In a typical Madrilian Christmas Eve, the meal will start with a Madrilian consommé, a type of clear soup to which they add some vegetables and a large variety of meats like beef, chicken and bones. The consommé is cooked for four hours, and served with a side of Savoy cabbage, prepared with onions and bacon.
For the main dish, some families prepare fish dishes and some prefer meat. One of the most famous Christmas Eve fish dishes is the besugo al horno, or baked sea bream. Those who prefer meat usually go with turkey or lamb. The meal is accompanied by a glass of cava, Spain’s version of the Champagne.
Star foods of the holiday season
But the star foods of the holiday season in Madrid are the sweets. The most typical ones are the turrón, a thick nougat bar usually made of almonds, sugar and honey; polvorones, a pressed powdered biscuit made of almonds and butter; and the Roscón de Reyes, a ring-shaped pastry filled with Spanish custard, topped with crystallized fruit.
After dinner, some families play songs and sing, and others go to the Misa del gallo (the rooster’s mass), which happens at midnight, to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
The next day, families get together again to celebrate Christmas. The celebration is very similar to the one on Christmas Eve: good food, singing and joy.
Though the official day for gift-giving in Spain is Dia de los Reyes Magos, the Three Wise Men Day, on January 6th, some families have started to adopt the international figure of Santa Claus. When people, especially the kids, wake up on the 25th, they run to the living-room to discover what gifts Santa Claus has left them under the Christmas tree, or by the chimney.
Activities during Christmas season in Madrid
Visiting the Christmas Markets
During the holiday season, Madrid gets filled with Christmas markets, in which you can purchase a variety of items related to the holidays, like Christmas trees, ornaments, candles or individual figures to create your own nativity scene. Some booths also sell items like jewelry and handcrafted items that can make great gifts. You can also find booths selling tasty treats like turróns, polvorones and churros with hot chocolate.
Taking a tour to see the Christmas lights
During the holiday season, Madrid gets turned into a wonderland, with Christmas lights that are turned on daily from 6 m to 10 pm or 11 pm, depending on if it is a weekday or the weekend. During this season, there is a bus that takes visitors on a tour of the Christmas lights around the city, called Navibus. The bus costs only 2€ per person, taking visitors on a 50-minute tours.
There are several nativity scenes you can visit in Madrid. The largest one is Belén de Francisco Salzillo, in CentroCentro at Palacio Cibles. There are also nativity scenes at Plaza del Sol, the Royal Church of San Ginés, at the Corpus Christi Convent of the Nuns Jerónimas, at St, Michaels Basilica, the Church of Jesús de Medinaceli, and at Palacio de Cibeles.