The Christmas holiday in Seville is a festive
time! I know many think of cold weather and snow when it
comes to the holidays, but I can't think of a better place
to be this time of year. From the lights in the center -
more than 80 streets and plazas are illuminated this year
- to the nativity scenes, chestnuts roasting, holiday markets
and crowded shopping districts, Seville puts on quite a
show for those of us living in or visiting the city. Then there's the people singing villancicos, or
Christmas songs, in the streets and of course the Loteria
de Navidad, or Christmas lottery, a tradition for so
many Spaniards which includes hours of singing orphans on
Christmas day. And the holiday season lasts until January
6th in Spain, so it's a long haul! Like many countries the
shopping period is starting earlier and earlier every year.
Most people give their gifts on January 6th instead of December
25th, pushing the mad rush of buying into the new year.
New Year's, the Día de la Inmaculada Concepción
and the Día de Santos Inocentes are other days where
you'll see some holiday activity or just a little joking
Children in Spain anticipate the 6th, or Reyes, when
the three kings come to leave presents and candy, just as
the children wait for Santa Claus in many other countries.
However every year Santa seems to make inroads with his marketing
push and some parents are starting to celebrate Christmas
with their children along with Reyes. In between
December 1st and January 6th there are many days to celebrate
(or joke, as is the case with the 28th of December). A few
observations on the holidays in Sevilla and Spain, starting
with specific days and what happens:
Day of the Immaculate Conception - Día de la Inmaculada
Celebrating the Immaculate Conception on December 8th, this
is an official holiday in Spain, well, it's shared with Constitution
Day. In Sevilla it is best known for the night before on the
7th when los tunos, university student musical groups
or fraternities, dress up and head into the streets to play
guitar and sing through the night. All end up in front of
La Purisima, leaving flowers and taking turns serenading the
statue representing the Virgin Mary. Many people flood the
streets and gather around the statue before midnight to get
a good view of the serenading. The following day there is
a service in the Cathedral with children performing traditional
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day - La Noche Buena y Día
December 24th and 25th
Christmas Eve, or La Noche Buena, is probably celebrated
more than is Christmas Day in Spain. A large meal comprised
of plate after plate of food is prepared for the family starting
later in the evening and goes on many hours through midnight.
It's a time to be with family and enjoy food and drink. Once
the meal is over, traditional holiday sweets such as turrón and champagne help finish off the night. Christmas day is
an official holiday and often spent with family while many
stroll through the center and may choose to take a break from
cooking to eat lunch in a restaurant.
Day of the Innocent Saints - Día de Santos Inocentes
While this isn't a holiday in the Christmas sense it's worth
mentioning for it's joke factor. This is the equivalent of
April Fool's Day in the States where people pull jokes, or
inocentadas, on other people. Television, radio and newspapers
join in the fun publishing fake stories on less significant
events such as sports or entertainment.
New Year's Eve and Day - La Noche Vieja y Año Nuevo
December 31st and January 1st
New Year's Eve is another night often celebrated with a big
dinner with family at first and then a night out at a party.
Many bars and restaurants have private parties where you pay
a certain amount for food and drink, including a bottle or
glass of champagne. Grapes are often consumed as well - one
for each chime of the clock at midnight - that's 12 total!
Many gather in Plaza Nueva to watch the clock, eat a lot of
grapes and then head to parties around town. New Year's Day
is an official holiday and most people spend it recovering
from the night before.
Kings Day - Reyes Magos
This is the day of presents much like the 25th in the states
or other countries. Celebrating the day the three kings came
to visit the niño Jesus with gifts. Children
write letters to the Reyes Magos asking for gifts.
Hanging stockings, or calcetines to be filled with
candy is becoming a common practice, but leaving your shoes
or slippers out to be filled is still the Spanish tradition.
It seems everyone spends the night before watching the Cabalgata
de los Reyes, a large Christmas parade in the center,
or a smaller version in their neighborhood or pueblo (see
below for more info). The three kings come in the early morning
and leave presents for the children, and if you're lucky,
the adults, too. Traditional baked goods, such as the rosco
de reyes are consumed and many children will be seen
in the parks with their new toys!
These are concerts which are held every year and are holiday
traditions. There is more depending on the neighborhood you
are in. Most dates are not set yet, but below are some approximations
until they have published the official schedule.
Orquestra Bética Filarmónica de Sevilla
(Vivaldi and Bach)
around December 22
Concierto Extraordinario de Navidad de la Real Orquestra
Sinfónica de Sevilla
Extraordinary Christmas Concert with the Royal Orchestra of
Teatro de la Maestranza
around December 20 - 22
Coros de Villancicos (Christmas Carols)
December 13 - 31: In the streets throughout the center various
groups will be singing
Trío Emispherio: Concierto de Navidad
Iglesia los Terceros
December 9 (20:00)
Parades and Festivals
Día de la Inmaculada Concepción
Occurring on the night of the 7th of December I mentioned
this above as well. While not a parade the groups play music
and many can be seen serenading various women and men (there
are now female tunas!) in the center before heading
to the statue of the Virgin next to the Cathedral.
Cabalgata de Reyes
This exists in many forms on the 5th of January. Much like
a Christmas parade back home, the Reyes Magos and
the children who accompany them on several floats, throw candies
to the children (and many adults) as they pass through the
streets in a procession. There are many to see, from the larger
procession in the center to the cabalgatas organized
in many of the neighborhoods such as Nervión and Triana.
Watch out for the mean children who throw hard candy as hard
as they can, hoping to break something (such as your nose
Another likely sighting in the center and various neighborhoods
are the Royal Postmen who take the letters the children write
to the Reyes Magos. Accompanied
by a band playing music, you'll generally see between the
27th of December and the 3rd of January, depending on the
Belenes y nacimientos
In general you can see a belén or a nacimiento just about anywhere, just look for the signs posted around
the center and follow the arrows. These are many large scale
and time intensive nativity scenes put together by sponsors
and foundations, as well as some impressive ones created by
stores such as El Corte Inglés. Churches and other
private belenes are also located throughout the city.
Many take just a few minutes to see while others are well
know and you can expect lines and a wait to view them. A few
recommendations are below to see some of the best scenes in
the center. All will run until January 6th unless otherwise
Belén Popular Canario
Palacio de Yanduri, Puerta de Jerez
Belén de Caja San Fernando Tradicional Nacimiento
Caja San Fernando, c/Chicarreros just off of Plaza San Francisco
Belén de Ayuntamiento de Sevilla
Ayuntamiento, between Plaza San Francisco and Plaza Nueva
under the arch.
Belén de El Corte Inglés
Plaza del Duque to the right of the main building
Belén de El Monte
c/Laraña a few blocks up from La Campana
Nacimiento de la Catedral
Cathedral, Avda de Constitución
Nacimiento en la Iglesia San José
Iglesia San José, c/Jovellanos
Chocolate Belen in La Campana
La Campana Bakery at the end of Sierpes.
Chocolate Belen in San Buenventura
most of the Horno San Buenaventura locations
Again, there are plenty more to see in most any neighborhood.
Keep your eyes open!
Christmas Markets in Seville
Mercados de Navidad en Sevilla
Feria del Belén de Sevilla
Archivo de Indias
From mid November until a few days before Christmas, this
market supports a tradition throughout Spain and certainly
in Sevilla, that of the belén, or nativity
scene. Now is the time where people purchase the figures and
scenery either for a new or to add to existing belenes. Take your choice from the most famous stores in Sevilla and
Spain which sell these items in display booths, normally in the Plaza
de San Francisco, but this year it has moved to around the Archivo de Indias. Figures range from the serious to whimsical
and from a few Euros to hundreds of Euros - this is a serious
ornaments, cards and other decorations are available as well.
Feria del Libro Antiguo
From mid November until early December you will find a gathering
of local book merchants selling old and rare books, plus some
normal more recent books. There are some interesting titles
from the Ayuntamiento, including several published titles
about history, art and architecture of Sevilla. Comics, old
newspapers as well as a few antique and replica posters and
Mercado de Artesanía
From mid December until early January, local artisans and
craftsmen display their goods for sale in this annual market
in the Plaza Nueva. From pottery to paintings, jewelry and
more you can find gifts that are uniquely Spanish and Sevillan.
This is perhaps my favorite place to shop for gifts. I always
find something original and at a decent price in this market, which is conveniently located at the edge of the main shopping district.
Exposición y Vento de Dulces
During the first week of December, if you want to see the
demand for sweet things then simply get in line at the Alcazar
(Patio de Banderas) for the Exposición de Dulces from
the local convents. You need to get there the first day and
early if you can, because the best baked goods and sweets
are taken quickly. The line on Saturday's can extend several
hundred meters. If you can't stand the wait you can hit a
local convent or head to the Plaza del Cabildo just off of
Avda. Constitución where there's a small store which
sells a good variety.
As always there are the local markets which you can check out every week for holiday shopping.
The Savory - Holiday Food in Spain
Lo "Savory" ;) - La comida
for dinner both on the 24th and the 31st it will vary greatly
from family to family. A few foods which make it to most
holiday tables are jamón serrano and other chacinas, or cured meats, as
well as manchego cheese. Olives and capers are generally the first thing on the table. Having spent an entire
day last year driving in the province of Huelva through Jabugo and Aracena we witnessed a large number of people traveling
from the cities to buy some of the best jamón and chacina you can find. Our dinners often
include langostinos (prawns), carillada (stew)
and perhaps fried fish of some sort. We've enjoyed mejillones rellenos and honestly nobody can compete with my suegras recipe. They could try, but...these are mussells which are chopped up and mixed with things like hard boiled egg, a little bit of bread crumbs (I think), and some garlic but I'm not allowed tu publish much more ;). This is all chopped up and mixed together then sutffed into the halfshell and fried. Other dishes are sopa de mariscos (shellfish soup), carne mechada (roast pork) or carne mecha as they often say it in Sevilla.
For drinking there is no typical beverage like eggnog,
although you'll find a little of everything out during and
after the meal: red and white wine, mosto (a wine typical
of the fall and winter season), beer and cava, the
Spanish version of the French champagne. Eating the 12 lucky grapes or ivas de la suerte, at
New Years is also a tradition. You should begin at the first strike of the bell before midnight and then race to eat a grape each second until the new year arrives.
The Sweet - Holiday Food in Spain
Lo dulce - La comida
If there's one thing you can can't on it's eating well
during the holidays in Sevilla. As I mentioned above the
traditional Christmas day cake is a rosco de navidad,
which is a sweet, round cake with a hole in the middle.
I find them a bit dry so I'm not a big fan, but many love
them. Turrón is also a favorite and if you
make your way to El Corte Inglés or another supermarket
the selection is so big it's almost scary. Several aisles are converted to turronlandia and on many years they also have a little specialty stand where they will cut you a piece to order. Aside from turrón there are plenty of other candies and cakes you can
choose from. For some ideas on where to buy pastries, sweets and all sorts of confections you can check
out my list of bakeries in the food section.
While the local convents make plenty of sweets year round they are in high demand during the holiday season. The above mentioned exposition of convent goodies is one way to find them. Beware of long lines during some hours. You can also find them in the Plaza del Cabildo and the Santa Justa train station. But you miss out on all of the fun in visiting a local convent and taking a little trip back in time. So below I've listed some local convents and a few of their specialties.
Convento de San Leandro
Plaza de San Leandro
A few blocks from the Alfalfa at the end of Calle Boteros. Specialties: Yemas de San Leandro, a gooey, sugar-infused, candied egg yolk.
Convento de Santa Ana
Calle Sanat Ana 34
Two blocks up from the Plaza Encarnacion, this convent is located close to Rayas, another recommended stop for something dulce in the way of ice cream. Ok, so Rayas will likely be closed in the winter months! Specialties: a variety of special holiday confections.
Convento de Santa Ines
Calle Dona Maria Coronel
Two blocks up from the Plaza Encarnacion, this convent is located close to Rayas, another recommended stop for something dulce in the way of ice cream. Ok, so Rayas will likely be closed in the winter months! Specialties: a variety of special holiday confections. Specialties: Tortias de aceite (thin, sweet and crispy fried cakes in olive oil). Others included: bollitos de Santa Ines, cortadillos, roscos and more.
Convento de Santa Paula
Calle Santa Paula, 11
Visiting the convent should be on your list of things to do even if you don't buy sweets! Specialties: To the regret of my waistband my personal favorite is tocino del cielo, which translates into "fat of the heavens". Think of flan but thicker because its made with twice the egg yolk. Also close to 20 different types of jams and jellies.
Convento Madre de Dios de la Piedad
Calle San Jose, 4
The list is long,
specialties include anything with marzipan. Thats maybe my personal preference but the dates filled with marzipan are terribly addicting. I still need to try the bienmesabe, which means "I taste good"
Convento Santa Maria del Socorro
Calle Bustos Tavera, 30
My first apartment was on this street in Santa Catalina but I never tried anything from the convent until moving away. A shame as I could have enjoyed a short walk to pick up my rosco de reyes.
Specialties: I woudl start with the pestinos, fried, crunchy dough coated in honey. If you like coconut try the delicias de coco.
Monasterio de San Clemente
Calle Reposo, 9
There is plenty to choose from but again I drift to marzipan. This time with pine nuts..something curiosuly good about this combination.
Tienda el Torno
Plaza del Cabildo
Just a block from the Cathedral although hidden in the Plaza del Cabildo. On Sundays there is a market for stamps, coins and other collectables. The store brings together some of the specialties from the convents above.
Few Notes for Expats
Notas para "guiris"
Spending the holidays in Sevilla is wonderful, but you may
find yourself missing some of the traditions back home. With
a little work and knowledge you can recreate some of those
traditions as we've done. While not always the same we've
managed to celebrate both the American Christmas and Spanish Reyes without too many problems, other than a large
turkey dinner on the 25th, just after stuffing ourselves the
night before. So below are some of the ways and things we've
done to make both holidays work
Trees are becoming more and more common, but most Spaniards
buy the plastic variety, of which there are many to be found
in El Corte Inglés and other stores. To get a real
tree it's best to check with a floristeria where
they often have a couple tucked away somewhere. Unlike in
the States these are already twined up and ready to take home.
This leaves you guessing about the state of the tree's fullness.
Trees also generally come "roots and all" and instead
of buying a tree stand you buy a pot, or maseta,
and a little soil and plant the tree. The floristeria in the Alfalfa sells trees as does the one on Menendez
y Pelayo close to the Puerta Carmona. Another location is
Floristeria Manolo close to the market in the Encarnación.
Decorations and Lights
You can find the most decorations and ornaments in El
Corte Inglés in the Magdalena on the basement
level, although most are fairly ugly in my opinion. La
Yunta, relocated on c/O'Donnell, has a lot of ornaments
and decorations and some of the more tasteful some items are
quite expensive. Casa, just on the corner
of the Plaza de la Gavidia, also has some ornaments as well
as plenty of holiday theme decorations. We've had luck in
random home decoration and accessory stores as well as a few
of the dollar type stores which you'll find here and there
in the center. Again, El Corte Inglés offers the best
selection of lights, although some of the electric supply
stores also offer a decent choice.
Having an oven might be the most of your worries when it comes
to a traditional Christmas dinner. Depending on your family
the traditional dishes may vary, but we've had no problems
repeating the tradition with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes,
sweet potatoes and a host of vegetables. A good pie can be
made or you can simply replace it with a tarta from
a bakery. If you are looking for cranberry sauce, it can almost always be found in El Corte Ingles supermarket.
Shopping for gifts is quite easy in the center. My favorite
places are all in a very small area in the center. Intermon,
located on c/Mendez Nuñez is a place that will make
you and the person you give your gift to feel good. Local
art, accessories, jewelry, food and more from countries and
people in need. All goods come from areas and shops where
they have certified the working conditions and pay to be of
good standards. They make sure the money you spend goes back
into the hands of those who make it. Aside from that the items
are unique and reasonably priced. Really cool stuff here!
After that I make my way to the markets in Plaza Duque,
and Plaza Magdalena. When open the Feria
de Belenes in Plaza San Francisco and the Mercado
de Artesania in Plaza Nueva (both listed above) are
great places to get something original or holiday ornaments
for gifts. Venturing further out to Triana you can find some
great little ceramic shops behind the market which offer lots
of great typical gifts at a decent price. Shipping those gifts
abroad is quite expensive, so you may have to get your shopping
done early or as we do many time order online in the U.S.
and have things shipped directly to our relatives. While they
may miss out on the typical gifts from Sevilla it will save
you a bunch and gives them an excuse to come visit you. For
more gift ideas check out the shopping
The Loteria de Navidad is a big deal in Spain. It is certainly a tradition and an expensive one at that: 20 Euros gets you a ticket. Many often buy shares into or participations with friends and family or with local charities. The payoff of course goes down in these cases. But the real fun is waking up in the morning and listening to children sing out each number drawn from two very large tumblers of little wooden balls with numbers and euro amounts. If you watch the entire morning you'll be sure to be singing numbers in Spanish for the rest of the day. We generally have it as background noise and only look up when we hear "excited singing" and then the panic of the comentators until they can tell us in what city the lucky number was purchased. For a brief summary of the type of mayhem, a video from the new last year:
Finally, there is always a lot of talk about the Loteria de Navidad, and while technically not the Christmas lottery, well, you just have to mention Pancho and the Primitiva when it comes to any lottery. A series of television spots have been produced about a dog who abandons his owner after winning the lottery. Below is a collection of my favorite spots from youtube: