Navidad is sprinkled over every plaza in Granada!
During the last week of November and the first week of December, crews slung up huge Christmas light banners with shapes on them—teddy bears, dolls, ribbons, and ornaments. The anticipation was excruciating; every day more and more lights went up but remained off with a silent reminder of Christmas slowly approaching.
Because Spain is historically Catholic and the majority still identify as Catholic, it’s very interesting to live in Granada around the time of a Christian holiday. I think Granadinos honor the religious sentiment of Christmas more than I’ve ever noticed in America. However, there’s still a latent fabric of materialism in the city—as there is everywhere around this time of year.
For example, the amount of Christmas lights that the city funds is HUGE! We’re not talking those little twinkly lights that Americans put on trees, but scoreboard size spirit lights. They’re very festive and really do make walking around the city at night magical. In a small town like Granada, I think these lights are important for two reasons: 1. Because children love them, and 2. It attracts tourists from other cities in Andalucía and other parts of Europe to the Christmas markets.
Yet although there’s a big stress on the showmanship of the Christmas markets, there’s an equal amount of religious spirit. There is a huge tent in a central plaza with an extensive model of Belén (Bethlehem) during the birth of Jesus. For the past couple weeks, school children have been lining up down the block to go inside. They included every part of life in Bethlehem, from the manger scene to a lively market. In Minnesota, there is a mall that converts its top floor into a decorative Christmas “museum” with a different theme every year, but it’s usually things like The Nutcracker. I don’t think a miniature Belén would be so well attended!
In addition, almost every store in Granada has some sort of decoration for Christmas, and the majority even have mangers or miniature nativity scenes.
Another interesting difference is that Spaniards believe the Three Wise Kings bring the gifts to children, but not until January 6. They celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25 and they know who “Papa Noël” is, but you’re much more likely to see motifs of wise men on camels instead of the jolly old man.
My favorite food at the Christmas markets in Granada are candies called “hojaldrinos,” which are kind of similar to Russian tea cakes (except a lot more melt-in-you-mouth-y). Although Christmas cookies are an important part of my tradition at home, Spanish candy consists of these super crumbly and super sugary biscuits, and various types of “turrón” or nougat (usually with almonds).