With blue skies, palm trees, beaches and a sparkling Mediterranean Sea, the Costa del Sol is a long way from the traditional Christmas backdrop, however the holiday season in southern Spain can be as different or familiar as you choose to make it. Spanish Christmas traditions differ somewhat from those back home but the conventional northern European traditions are slowly being incorporated into the holiday allowing you to absorb yourself into the time honoured local traditions of a typically Spanish Christmas, celebrate the festive season just as you would back home, or better still enjoy a fusion of the two…
For those of us from northern Europe we are used to a lengthy build-up to the holiday season. Festive songs playing on the radio and emanating from shopping centres filled with Christmas shoppers, bars and restaurants packed with office parties and revellers, maybe even a few flakes of early snow in some parts, however as you soak up the winter sun on the Costa del Sol, the festive season has a habit of sneaking up on you.
The month long party season in Spain begins with two national holidays – Constitution day on 6th December followed by the Immaculate Conception two days later – and continues into the new year with the arrival of the three kings and a further national holiday – El Dia de Los Reyes – on 6th January. Local towns such as Fuengirola, Mijas, Marbella and San Pedro are illuminated with elaborate lighting displays and nativity scenes, town squares and streets are filled with Christmas markets and the aroma of chestnuts roasting over fires tended by street vendors, the star of the show and always worth a visit however, is Málaga city. Centred around the pedestrianised Calle Larios, each year the capital of the Costa del Sol bursts to life with a spectacular light display renowned throughout Spain. Whilst shops and commercial centres are decked out in Christmas decorations, this can be deceiving as with the traditional gift giving taking place on 6th January, the season doesn’t really kick off in earnest until Christmas Eve.
Christmas eve and Christmas day are primarily family days in Spain, however many restaurants and hotels cater for the many expat residents and visitors offering traditional Christmas menu’s. For those spending the day at home with family and friends, all the necessary ingredients for a traditional Christmas dinner and accessories such as crackers and decorations can all be found in supermarkets such as Supersol, Iceland and Dunnes Stores. Unlike back home where everything is shut, here you can work off that Christmas lunch with a walk along the beachfront and enjoy an after dinner drink and soak up the sun in a bar on the beach or in any town square.
For those dreaming of a white Christmas, you may be surprised to discover that Europe’s southernmost ski resort is just a two hour drive from the Costa del Sol in the Sierra Nevada mountains. With 124 runs covering in excess of 100km the Pradollano ski resort is a snow covered paradise where you can try your hand at skiing, snowboarding and sledging or simply hiking in the mountains, for the more adventurous an experienced there is a snow park with Spain’s largest halfpipe.
Whilst many people choose to bring in the New Year in style in of the numerous first class hotels or fine dining restaurants along the Costa del Sol, for an authentic Spanish New Years Eve celebration head to the main square in your local town or village. From Mijas to Marbella, Benalmádena to Benahavís, in practically every town and city in the province of Málaga the people enjoy the festivities in the open air with revellers participating in the tradition of eating twelve lucky grapes; a tradition of swallowing each grape in unison in time with the twelve chimes at midnight to guarantee a prosperous new year.
January 5th and 6th are , for Spaniards, the two biggest days of the holiday season. Most towns and cities grind to a standstill on the evening of the 5th as the three kings arrive in a spectacular procession of floats scattering sweets and candies to crowds of excited children. The following day – El Día de Los Reyes or Day of The Kings – those same children will wake up to presents left by the real three kings and families and friends will gather for the traditional exchange of gifts.
Aside perhaps for the weather, Christmas on the Costa del Sol isn’t all that different from back home, but it is the ideal place to enjoy both a traditional northern European festive holiday and experience an equally magical Christmas Spanish style.