Christmas in Madrid

A few weeks ago I walked with a spring in my step through Puerta del Sol, filled with Christmas spirit. The giant electric Christmas tree was lit, the streets extending off were hung with lights, and all around me people vendors shouted “Lotería de Navidad! El Gordo, aquí!” I paused–when did I start associating the lottery with Christmas?

Spain’s Christmas lottery is one of the many traditions celebrated in Madrid every December; some of which were new to me, others very similar to my experiences in the US. Here are some of the ones that stood out to me:

This ad campaign was posted all over Madrid, especially in Metro stations. "Every Christmas, your dreams become possible; The Lottery... Dream of the biggest Big One in history."

El Gordo (the big one) is the nickname for Spain’s Lotería de Navidad (Christmas Lottery). El Gordo is actually the name of the Grand Prize, though the lottery is popular because of its extensive prize pool, resulting in numerous winners instead of only one Grand Prize.

Vendors selling tickets for the Christmas Lottery in Puerta Del Sol.

According to tradition, students draw the winning ticket number and a corresponding prize out of giant bowls (which you can see in the background of the first image), and sing the results live on national television. According to one tour guide, everyone buys tickets for the Christmas lottery, even people who normally don’t gamble. Image source.

In early December, the entrance to El Corte Ingles (a gargantuan Spanish department store) becomes Cortylandia, a favorite tradition of Spanish children. It reminded me of the “It’s a Small World After All” ride at Disney, but giant: toys wave their arms and spin around, all the while an annoyingly high-pitched song plays through speakers. Kids gather on the hour to see the spectacle.

The streets of Madrid were hung with lights at the end of November. With no Thanksgiving, who’s to determine when decorations can go up? Living in the suburbs at home, I was used to houses and yards covered in lights, but in the city this festivity continued through the lighting of streets, plazas, Christmas trees, and the sides of buildings.

Plaza Callao

Calle Gran Vía

Puerta del Sol

Chueca: my home!

Christmas Markets popped up in early December in most of Europe’s major cities. Some of them sold lights and decorations, some sold handmade crafts, many sold nativity figurines, and many had stalls and booths inspired by other European countries (selling German sausages, Austrian candies, Spanish chorizo, etc.) I got to see not only Madrid’s markets in Plaza Mayor, but also Christmas markets in Paris (my favorite!), Rome, and Florence.

Madrid: Plaza Mayor

Paris: Champs Elysees

Rome: Piazza Navona

Forence: Piazza Santa Croce

Part of the reason Spain’s Christmas spirit is so overwhelming is because according to the Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas, in 2011 70% of Spaniards follow Catholicism, followed by 25% who claim to be “non-religious,” with a mere 2.7% who responded that they follow other religions. Regardless of your religious affiliation, if you enjoy Christmas decorations, I would highly suggest traveling through Spain and the rest of Europe in December.

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