One of the best ways to improve your understanding of the Spanish language is to learn more about Spanish traditions and culture. A major aspect of any culture is its traditions. Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries have distinct traditions that are fascinating to learn about and may inspire you to plan a visit.
No matter where you are in your Spanish lessons, you will love learning about these Spanish holidays, superstitions, customs, and Spanish traditions!
- Spanish Traditions
- Mexican Traditions
- Spanish Christmas Traditions
- Spanish Holidays
- Spanish Customs
- Spanish Superstitions
You have probably seen cardboard piñatas decorated in brightly-colored papier-mâché at childrens’ birthday parties. Blindfolded participants try to hit the piñata with a stick, to break it open and spill out fruits, candies, and other treats hidden inside. They’re made in various shapes, but the traditional piñata is the six-point star.
There’s a lot of speculation about the true origin of the piñata; some believe they originated in China, in animals shapes like cows and oxen. Other reports claim that piñatas originated in Mexico, with the Aztecs and Mayans, and were originally clay pots made in the shape of the gods. Breaking these pots to release the contents represented an offering from the gods.
When piñatas first came to Spain, the first Sunday of Lent was called the “Dance of the Piñata”. While the first piñatas in Spain were made of clay, decorations and bright colors were eventually added to the design. While the history of piñata has a religious, spiritual significance, modern-day piñatas are mainly used for games during parties and celebrations.
For girls in Hispanic countries, the 15th birthday signifies a coming of age. The family throws a big party, called a Quinceañera, which begins with a Misa de acción de gracias, or giving thanks for completing childhood.
The festejada (birthday girl) where’s a formal dress and receives gifts from family members. Common Quinceañera gifts include tiaras, bracelets, and earrings.
A traditional Quinceañera begins with a church ceremony, followed by a party with food, music, and dancing.
In Spanish-speaking countries, Carnival celebrations are held between late January to early March, the time leading up to Lent.
Carnival is generally recognized as the final chance to celebrate before Lent and there are festivities, including dancing and music, throughout the day and night. Spanish traditions for carnival also include dressing up and wearing mask
Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe
Devout Catholics in Mexico make a pilgrimage to the Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City every year on December 12th. The date commemorates the appearance of the Virgin Mary to the Indian Juan Diego in 1531.
According to the story, no one believed that Juan Diego had seen the Virgin and asked him to return with proof. The Virgin reappeared and told Juan Diego to collect flowers in his coat. He returned to see the archbishop of Mexico City and dropped the flowers. A miraculous picture of the Virgin had formed on the material, which today is displayed in the Basilica.
Día de la Independencia
Dia de la Independencia (Mexican Independence Day) falls on September 16th, but begins the night before when the President of Mexico rings the bell at the National Palace in Mexico City, and shouts “Viva México!”
There is a national military parade ever year on September 16th, and to celebrate Mexico’s independence from Spanish rule, people decorate their homes, dress in the colors of the flag, throw confetti, and hold parties where they feast on traditional foods.
San Judas Tadeo
San Judas Tadeo (St. Jude Thaddeus) is known as the Saint of Lost Causes. On the 28th day of every month, people gather at San Hipólito Church, the church dedicated to St. Jude in downtown Mexico City.
People bring icons and statues of St. Jude, and ask for his blessing and help in difficult circumstances.
October 28th is known as his saint’s day, and again, thousands of people flock to the church in Mexico City.
Originally Spanish Christmas traditions, Posadas are now commonly held in Mexico and Guatemala. In Spanish, posada means “inn,” and in Mexico, people hold candles and sing songs as they reenact Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter in Bethlem.
Christmas Posadas last from December 16th until Christmas Eve.
Nochebuena (“the Good Night”/Christmas Eve) is a family event, celebrated with a feast. Traditionally, families would have lechón (pork) for dinner on Nochebuena, but in more recent times, the meal varies depending on the region.
Dinner generally incorporates music and gifts, and many families also attend Misa del Gall0 (Midnight Mass) on Nochebuena.
Misa del Gallo
Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve is called Misa del Gallo (The Mass of the Rooster). This event is known as The Mass of the Rooster because it’s believed that a rooster crowed at midnight the day that Jesus was born.
In Spain, attendees first light small oil lamps in their home before setting out to the church. In Bolivia, people only eat after mass, usually a traditional dish of picana de pollo, a chicken stew with carrots, peas, and potatoes. In Puerto Rico, the Misa del Gallo is just one of a series of nine.
Reyes Magos (Three Kings Day) starts on January 5th with a reenactment of the arrival of the Three Kings. The Spanish Christmas tradition features a parade, Cabalgata de los Reyes, where the Three Kings arrive on horseback or on decorated floats, and throw treats and presents to the children.
Before bed that evening, children leave goodies for The Kings, and leave their shoes out for The Kings to fill with present
Día de los Muertos
In Hispanic cultures, it’s important to remember family members and friends who have passed. Día de los Muertos is a particularly significant holiday in Mexico, where it’s observed on November 1st and 2nd.
Celebrations combine Catholic elements with Aztec rituals. People create altars in their homes with photos, foods, and other objects that have some link to the deceased. They also visit the graves of their loved ones, where they may spend hours or even the entire day. Art related to the holiday depicts skeletons enjoying life on the other side.
Semana Santa (Holy Week) runs from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, and is one of the most important events of the year in Catholic countries.
While all of Mexico celebrates Semana Santa, different regions have different events and celebrations. Many Semana Santa celebrations include cascarones (colored egg shells), church services, and the Passion Play, the reenactment of the “Passion of the Christ”.
This Spanish custom involves hiring a band of mariachis, or arriving with a group of friends, to play music below a lover’s window. Traditionally, the recipient of the serenata keeps the light off during the first song, turns the light on for the second, and comes out to the balcony (or at least opens the window) for the third song.
This is the Spanish custom of wishing someone a good meal. It’s similar to “bon appétit” in French, but it’s not restricted to fine dining.
You can say “provecho” when you sit down to a meal with family or friends, or you can use it in passing, if you see someone you know who is about to eat.
A siesta, or afternoon nap/rest (between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.) is one of the classic Spanish traditions in Hispanic countries.
The three-hour siesta doesn’t necessarily mean nap time for everyone. Some people will take a long lunch, while others will use the break to spend time with their family.
“La Mordida“ is a Mexican birthday tradition.
While friends and family sing “La Mordida” (the bribe), the birthday boy or girl must take a bite of birthday cake without the use of his or her hands. This generally results in a face full of cake.
Mal de Ojo
There’s a great fear of the mal de ojo (evil eye) in some Hispanic cultures. The superstition dates back to medieval Europe, and the belief that a look can curse people, or cause children to become ill.
There are different remedies, like amulets and bracelets, for mal de ojo, and some specific cures in different regions. For example in Central America, people believe that mal de ojo can be cured by rubbing around the eye socket with an umbilical cord.
La Mal Sal
La mal sal means the bad salt or bad luck. Many people refuse to take a saltshaker, when it’s handed to them, as this is seen as receiving someone’s bad luck. Instead, you must place the salt shaker on the table, within reach of the person who wants it.
Sweeping Over Somone’s Feet
Some superstitious people believe that if you sweep over someone’s feet, that person will never marry.
Also, leaving an upside down broom behind your door can ward off unwanted visitors.
Cutting Babies’ Hair
You may want to think twice before cutting your baby’s hair. According to Spanish superstitions, cutting a baby’s hair before he or she learns to walk, will prevent him or her from learning to do so (learning will be delayed). Also, if you want your son or daugther to learn to talk, do not cut his or her hair before they turn one.
Whether you want to prepare for a trip to experience these Spanish traditions, or you want to improve your language skills, the best way to learn Spanish is with a private language teacher. One-on-one lessons will help you grasp the vocabulary and comprehension skills you need to fully appreciate Spanish traditions and culture.
Do you know any other Spanish traditions or superstitions? Share them with us in the comments below!
Photo by Joey Parsons