As the holiday season approaches, it can be a lot of fun to teach our Spanish students about how Christmas is celebrated in other parts of the world. I look at it as a great opportunity for some cultural comparisons! The AP Spanish Exam has a section where students make an oral cultural comparison, but why should we wait until their last year? Even if you live in an area where Christmas is not a big thing in your community, it IS a big thing in every Spanish-speaking country. Here are some fun facts about Christmas traditions in the Spanish-speaking world to share with your students! And HERE is an awesome Digital Escape Room that will teach your students all about these traditions and more!
Christmas Traditions from Barcelona, Spain
Have you heard of the Caga Tió? I never had either! It’s a small log of wood. One end is decorated with a face, and a red blanket is placed on it’s back. It usually has sticks for legs. They can be bought at many Christmas markets, and children feed and take care of the “Poop Log” from December 8th-24th. They believe that the better they care for the log, the better the presents will be that he “poops out” on the 24th! There is a song that children sing to it while they tap it’s back with a stick. The end of the song is pretty funny! The translation is something like the command “Poop, log!” The children run into another room while the parents hide the sweets near the log.
Here is a link to a short video so you can here the song and see what it looks like!
What cultural comparison can we make with THIS Christmas tradition?? (Maybe Elf on the Shelf?)
In Latin America on Christmas Eve, families gather for a big meal. As the night wears on, the radio goes on! People dance and have a great time listening to the music. But what they are really waiting for is “El conteo”, the countdown! At the stroke of midnight, everyone goes outside! They watch the fireworks and greet their neighbors! When the show is over and everyone comes back in, the gifts under the Christmas tree have magically appeared!
What cultural comparisons can be made with these Christmas traditions? (Maybe the countdown to New Years? Or how children have to be told NOT to wake their parents up on Christmas morning until a specific time, and they wait outside your door?)
In almost all Spanish-speaking countries, el roscón de reyes is an important Christmas tradition. El roscón is a donut shaped cake, though it is more dry than what Americans are used to for cakes. Often it is filled with a sweet filling and decorated on top with dried fruits. It is supposed to resemble the crown of Jesus.
But for me, one of the most fun parts of this tradition is that small figurines are baked into this cake! The person that finds one of the 3 Reyes (3 Wise Men) is said to have good luck for the rest of the year in some countries! In other countries, the person who finds that figurine, or a bean, is meant to pay for the roscón next year!
Another interesting fact is that almost no one bakes the roscón at home. The ingredients are a little hard to work with, and often times nuns sell them as a fundraiser for their convent.
El Día de Reyes
Of course another Christmas tradition that is VERY popular in Spanish-speaking countries is celebrating el Día de los Reyes. This tradition is catching on in certain parts of the United States in which there is a high population of Hispanic people. The story goes that the 3 wise men didn’t arrive to see the Baby Jesus until January 6th.
This day is part of the Christmas season and many adults don’t go back to work until after the 6th, and students don’t go back to school until after the 6th. On the night before, children leave shoes by their beds for the Reyes to fill. In many countries, this day is the most exciting for children because the Reyes are the ones who leave the most gifts. Santa is not as popular in Spanish-speaking countries as he is in the US.
How might your students compare the idea of Santa to Los Reyes Magos?
How to Incorporate Christmas Traditions into the Classroom
Here is a list of ways you can use to weave in some culture about Christmas in Spanish-speaking countries, even if it’s not part of your regular curriculum!
- Readings: you can create them, find them on line or purchase them on a site like TpT! They can be in English or Spanish
- Class or Small Group discussions
- Follow up with an exit ticket where you ask students to compare how Christmas is celebrated in their country vs. in Spanish-speaking countries
- Invite a guest speaker who can share their personal experiences with celebrating Christmas in a Spanish-speaking country
- Try this Escape Room I created that will teach students about all of the traditions I mentioned above!