Guide to Canarian Christmas Traditions

The holiday season in Tenerife is not as commercialised as in the UK and doesn’t seem to get going until the last minute, but once it starts the merriment seem to last forever, well at least until 6th January.

You know that the festivities of Christmas have begun when the Spanish national lottery is drawn on December 22nd. ‘El Gordo’ is the largest lottery in the world with the total prize fund running into millions. The flamboyant ceremony of drawing the numbers is shown on TV and the whole nation tunes in to see if they have won.


After the lottery draw schools break up for the holidays and it is a time to gather the family together. The main celebration is held on Christmas Eve (‘Noche Buena’) where the emphasis is to celebrate the birth of Christ. Family and friends gather at home for the most important meal of the year and like most Christmas meals, this involves lots of preparation, many courses, and lasts for hours.

Following the meal many Canarians go to midnight mass or as it known ‘La Misa del Gallo’ or ‘Rooster Mass’ because the rooster was the first to announce the birth of Christ.


Christmas day is a quiet affair and children may receive a small gift from ‘Papa Noel’ who is slightly less popular than the Three Kings.

On December 28th people celebrate ‘The Day of the Innocents.’ similar to of April Fool’s Day. The history behind it is based on the story of King Herod ordering the massacre of all baby boys in Bethlehem. Today, it is a festival of fun, with people playing jokes and pranks on each other.

New Year’s Eve or ‘Noche Vieja’ is celebrated much like everywhere else with a few exceptions. People gather in town plazas clutching bags of green grapes and wearing red underwear. The underwear is for good luck in finding love in the coming year and the grapes … if you manage to eat one on every toll of the bell and there are 12 to welcome in the New Year, you will also have good luck. Once the grapes have been eaten, kisses bestowed, and fireworks admired, the party really begins and continues until the early hours.


For Spanish children, the best day of the festive season has to be the 5th and 6th of January. It is not Santa who brings the presents, but the Three Kings or ‘Los Reyes Magos’. They arrive in towns across the island with great pomp, and thousands watch the parades on the night of the 5th. Each parade consists of decorative floats with a variety of themes and sweets are thrown into the crowds. At the end of the parade, children get to tell the Kings what they want before going home to leave their shoes outside in the hope that when they wake up the Three Kings will have left presents.

The 6th January marks the end of the Christmas celebrations but don’t worry the next fiesta is just around the corner.

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