Spanish Christmas Vocabulary & TRADITIONS in Spanish-speaking Countries
¡Felíz Navidad y próspero año nuevo!
(Merry Christmas and a prosperous new year!)
No sé tú (I don’t know about you), but when I was a child, Christmas was all about the presents. Pero ahora (But now), it is definitely more about family, soul warming traditions, and food! Which is exactly what we’ll cover in this new video.
Yo soy Maura, de Spring Spanish.
¡Sígueme y descubre cómo hablamos de la navidad en español! (Follow me and discover how to talk about Christmas in Spanish!)
1. Christmas Decorations
Here’s where I buy my Christmas decorations. Follow me and let’s go over some of the vocabulary:
- Guirnalda (Garland)
- Corona (Crown): the word is “corona” but it’s not like it goes on your head.
- Castaña (Chestnut)
- Borlas (Tassels)
- Luces de navidad (Christmas lights)
- Arbolito (Little tree): you could also say “arbolito de navidad” (little Christmas tree) but it’s just longer.
- Reno (Reindeer)
2. Christmas Food
Here we face, once more, the width of Spanish. Because it belongs to so many countries with their own culture, choosing a generic menu sería imposible (would be impossible).
Te puedo decir (I can tell you), though, what’s typical in Venezuela and some things I’ve learned about Spain while living here. Ahora sígueme al supermercado y repasemos algunos ingredientes navideños (Now follow me to the supermarket and let’s go over some christmas ingredients.)
As it’s customary in many places, una gran pieza de carne (a big piece of meat), in this case, carne de cerdo (pork meat), cooked slowly in the oven tends to be a, literally, big part of the menu.
Ensalada de gallina (Hen salad):
I’m guessing many people have papas (potatoes) in their Christmas dinner one way or another. Esta es la versión venezolana (This is the Venezuelan version). I honestly think you’re supposed to use gallina (hen) but, at the same time, I don’t understand how that could be different from pollo (chicken). Anyways, for this ensalada de gallina (hen salad) we need: papas (potatoes), gallina o pollo (hen or chicken), zanahorias (carrots), guisantes (peas), and mayonesa (mayonnaise). That’s the foundation, but there are as many variants as Venezuelan families.
Hallacas: esto es lo más venezolano posible (this is the most Venezuelan possible):
This hallaca is very similar to a tamal (tamale). Inside you can find a lot, pero usualmente es un guiso de carne, pollo y/o cochino (but it’s usually beef, chicken and/or pork stew) previously cooked for hours. Plus toppings like aceitunas (olives), pasas (raisins), pimentón (peppers) y cebolla (and onions). Again, there are quite a few variants of this.
Pan de jamón (ham bread):
Every Venezuelan bakery will have this during Christmas. Es justo como suena: pan relleno de jamón (It's just as it sounds: bread stuffed with ham). Además tiene aceitunas y pasas (It also has olives and raisins).
Una de mis mayores sorpresas en España (One of my biggest surprises in Spain) which is where I actually live right now, is that they typically eat gambas (shrimp) for Christmas:
I’ve never done this for Christmas, but here everything is about las gambas (the shrimps). A los supermercados se les agotan incluso mucho antes de Navidad. (Supermarkets run out of stock even long before Christmas.) Curiosamente, yo no digo “gamba” (Curiously, I don't say “gamba”.) Para mi un shrimp es un camarón.
Something both countries definitely share are some desserts:
- Turrón (Nougat): in any of their varieties.
- Panetón (Panettone): again, there’s plenty of options.
Are any of these common where you live? ¡Déjame saber en los comentarios qué es lo más típico que comes para navidad! (Let me know in the comments what's the most typical thing you eat for Christmas!)
Torta negra (black cake):
This is one of the Venezuelan Christmas desserts. It’s probably an inherited and adapted recipe from another country. Lo importante es que la casa de mi abuela siempre olía a torta negra durante la navidad. (The important thing is that my grandma’s house always smelled like black cake during Christmas.) This smell includes: nueces (nuts), frutas maceradas (macerated fruits), azúcar morena (brown sugar) y ron (rum).
A very typical thing to happen, probably everywhere, es que a los supermercados se les agoten las cosas más codiciadas para la época (is that the supermarkets run out of the most coveted items for the season). Since this can lead to all sorts of family crisis, you should know how to say this loud and clear.
Try saying things like: ¡Se agotaron las uvas! ¿Y ahora qué hacemos? (They're out of grapes! What do we do now?) The dramatic question at the end is optional. Also, Cambia “uvas” por lo que sea que se haya agotado. (Change “grapes” to whatever has run out.) Lo que nunca se agota es nuestro (What never runs out is our) free Essential Spanish Chunking kit, which you can get by clicking that link in the description. Inside you’ll get many more chunks that you can use on a daily basis!
3. Christmas Characters
So neither Venezuela nor Spain escape Santa Claus’ or Papá Noel’s influence, but he’s not the most influential character in either country. Also, in Venezuela, a lot of people say San Nicolás instead of Santa Claus.
- El niño Jesús (Baby Jesus): how funny is that, growing up, I wrote letters to both San Nicolás and El Niño Jesús asking for presents? Esta figura del bebé es sumamente importante en Venezuela. (This baby figure is highly important in Venezuela.) In my house we even keep him covered until the night of the 24th when we uncover him because he is finally born.
- Los Reyes Magos (The Magic Kings): this is actually our last Christmas holiday and it happens on January the 6th. Esta fecha es muchísimo más importante en España que en Venezuela. (This date is much more important in Spain than in Venezuela.) But we both celebrate it and it’s even part of our countries official calendars. By the way, if you’re a child, it also means another present! Y en España, esta fiesta viene con su propio postre. (And in Spain, this holiday comes with its own dessert.): El roscón de reyes.
- El nacimiento (The Nativity): every Venezuelan house will have some representation of this as part of the decoration. Pueden ser cuchis y pequeñitos como este. (It can be cute and little like this one.) Or, if you’re a devote catholic with a child’s heart as my grandpa used to be, it can take up ridiculous dimensions.
4. Tradiciones (Traditions)
Let’s go over the dates a little bit because this is very, very different.
In Venezuela we have:
- 21 de diciembre: Día del espíritu de la Navidad (December 21st: Day of the Christmas Spirit): in Venezuela some people (definitely my family) celebrate this day doing some energy cleansing. We do this by burning a letter previously written which contains todos nuestros deseos para el próximo año, agradecimientos y cosas que queremos dejar atrás (all of our desires for the next year, things we appreciate and things we want to leave behind).
- Navidad, Noche Buena o El Veinticuatro (Christmas, Good Night, or The 24th): Venezuelans get together para cenar (for dinner). It’ll be very common not to eat hasta la media noche (until midnight) when it’s officially Jesus’ birth. También a la media noche nos reunimos alrededor del árbol de navidad y nos damos regalos unos a otros. (Also at midnight we finally get around the Christmas tree and give each other presents.) And we uncover el niño Jesús (baby Jesus).
- El Veinticinco (The 25th): usualmente estuvimos juntos hasta muy, muy tarde el 24 o muy, muy temprano el 25. (usually we were together until very very late on the 24th or very, very early on the 25th). But it’s still important to be with family on this day so we don’t do much but we do it together. Either stay at home, rest and eat leftovers all day or meet the rest of the family for lunch.
- Año Nuevo, Noche Vieja o El Treinta y Uno (New Year, Old Night or The 31st): this was and still is my favorite holiday. It’s usually una gran fiesta, con ropa más elegante (a big party with more dressed up clothes) and food can be the same as Christmas’ or something else entirely. Ajuro esperamos hasta la medianoche juntos (We for sure wait until midnight together). At midnight, both Spanish and Venezuelans try to eat doce uvas (12 grapes). You’re supposed to follow las campanas de media noche (the midnight bells) and make a wish per grape. This is physically impossible, superstitious, and funny.
- Primero de enero (January 1st): este es probablemente el día más sagrado para los venezolanos (this is probably the sacrest of days for Venezuelans.) Again, we might meet the family for lunch but that’s about as much as we’re capable of doing on that day. Es un día sagrado de descanso para nosotros. (It is a sacred resting day for us.)
- 6 de enero: Reyes (January 6th: Kings): this tends to create a long weekend that everybody uses to recover from that first week of the year which is always weird. Nos juntamos de nuevo, comemos, y los niños reciben el regalo más simple de la navidad en Venezuela y el regalo más grande de la navidad en España. (We get together again, eat, and children get the simplest Christmas gift in Venezuela and the biggest Christmas gift in Spain.)
A new tradition for me in my life in Madrid is going out to see the Christmas lights been lit up around the city. Madrid es una ciudad indudablemente bella, pero con estas luces navideñas, pasa al siguiente nivel. (Madrid is such an undeniably beautiful city, but with these Christmas lights, it just goes to the next level.)
5. Holiday Chunks
There’s a lot you can hear during the holidays, but most of it will be about the same things. Here’s a few of the things you could hear and say yourself:
- Feliz día del espíritu de la navidad (Happy Christmas Spirit Day): this you say on December 21st.
- Feliz Navidad (Merry Christmas): around or on the 24th or 25th.
- Que el niño Jesús te traiga todo lo que deseas. (May the Baby Jesus bring you all that you wish for.): this if you’re this if you’re talking to Venezuelans or a Latin American who believes in El Niño Jesús.
- Felices fiestas (Happy Holidays): This is a good generic you could use all around December.
- Feliz Año Nuevo (Happy New Year): self-explatanory.
- Muchas salud y prosperidad para este nuevo año. (Best of health and prosperity for this new year.): we do talk about health and prosperity around these dates.
- Que el año nuevo te traiga muchas bendiciones. (May the New Year bring you many blessings.): blessing are another important one.
- Felices Reyes (Happy Kings): on January 6 and 7.
I know it’s been a hard couple of years for most of us so, de corazón, espero que pases unas fiestas llenas de paz y armonía interior. (From the bottom of my heart, I hope you have a holiday season filled with peace and inner harmony.) I also hope you get to use your Christmas Spanish.