In Andalusia, as in the rest of Spain, the feast of Christmas dinner takes place late on the night of Christmas Eve (Nochebuena) and normally goes on into the small hours of Christmas Day. Traditionally, the exchanging of presents is not until the 6th of January, on King's Day (Reyes) and so full attention is given to the cooking of an extravagant meal on the night of the 24th.
If you are spending Christmas on the Costa del Sol but still want to enjoy a Christmas lunch on the 25th in a hotel or restaurant, in a typically British or other European style of cooking, this will not be too difficult. But if you are in a small village inland or in one of the towns or cities back from the coast, you will be able to enjoy the local specialities of the season, often including game, lamb and other dishes. Many traditional Andalusian restaurants and bars may be closed on the 25th, so it would be best to find out and book up in advance for a Christmas Eve dinner. It is also important to be aware that the prices charged on this special day of the year for eating out are usually much higher than normal, so if you are on a budget, it is best to check on the expected price while booking.
As regards Christmas decorations, the Nativity Scene is the centre of the Andalusian home, school, church and many commercial establishments - rather than the Christmas tree that many of us are used to from colder countries. However, real and artificial trees are becoming more in evidence now, showing the northern influence once again. Main Andalusian cities, such as Malaga now set up a huge Christmas tree in the main square, the Plaza de la Constitución, where locals and visitors enjoy the festive atmosphere while out shopping and socialising.
On the lead up to Christmas in the shops and supermarkets you will see many of the traditional seasonal foods on display. Particularly popular in the range of packaged sweets are polvorones and mantecados (small sweets/biscuits), marzipan and many different types of turrón (nougat). Normally you will see this on sale in pastlerías (cake shops) as well as in supermarkets and smaller and specialist food shops. The village of Estepa is renoun for the best polvorones.
Most of the polvorones and mantecados are manufactured the village of Estepa, about 100 kilometres from Seville. Although many years ago, these would be made at home, most people now buy them in large boxes of individually wrapped sweets. Traditionally the main ingredients are lard, sugar and flour. From this basic recipe are added different flavours, such as anise, cinnamon and sometimes wine. They are very popular and very much a part of Christmas, but certainly not a particularly good bet for the weight watchers.
The marzipan comes in tempting and dangerously delicious bite-size pieces, in regular and sometimes in moulded shapes for variety. The wonderful turron, or nougat, is another of the representative foods of Christmas and, like the other sweets, it is often placed as the central display of shops and supermarkets on the lead up to the 24th and also right up to King's day on the 6th January, after which you will have to hunt for them or go to special shops to seek them out later in the year. Turron has a fairly long shelf life, so if you really love it, buy some and keep it to enjoy well into the New Year.
If you want to enjoy a typically Andalusian Christmas, you may be able to have your turkey and eat it, so to speak. The main dish in many Andalusian homes is usually 'Pavo Navideño' (Christmas Turkey). Although it may not be quite like the roast turkey you make at home, there are many variations on the way it is prepared in Andalusia. Below is just one of the many recipes used.
There are also a variety of other dishes at an Andalusian Christmas dinner. Often the starters, including prawns, cured cheeses, and Serrano ham would make a meal without need for anything else. Good Spanish red and white wines go well with the array of meats and sea food. An aperitif of a glass of 'fino' (sherry), cider or soft drinks are also usually offered. The first drink of the evening may also be a chilled glass of bubbly Cava, although this is more in evidence at celebrations, fiestas and dinners on New Year's Eve (Nochevieja).
Why not visit our Christmas recipe section for some culinary inspiration?
More Andalusian Cooking Ideas
Janet Mendel, American journalist, who has lived in Andalusia for very many years, has just recently had her sixth Spanish cook book published. If you are thinking of improving your local cooking knowledge and skills or perhaps want to buy a nice Andalusian cook book for a Christmas gift, take a look at andalucia.com bookstore (where you can buy her books on-line or follow her recipes at Take a Taste of Andalucía).