Christmas in Gran Canaria
While most of the northern hemisphere is dreaming of a white Christmas, you´re talking to a California-raised, Canary Island transplant (via Cambodia and the Caribbean).
I don´t do cold.
So while the rest of the world may be content to cuddle up in cable knit sweaters and sip hot chocolate as the first snow falls, you can find me on the Las Canteras coastline, soaking up the sun and the salty sea air.
This will be my seventh Christmas in Spain, and over the years I´ve been lucky enough to sing feliz Navidad and ring in the New Year in incredible cities like Madrid, Barcelona, Granada and Tenerife, but I must say that there´s something special about the holidays in Gran Canaria (not least because it´s usualy warm enough to hit the beach on the big day).
From the world´s biggest nativity scene sand sculpture to the three wise men disembarking at the port in Las Palmas after their long journey across the Atlantic, Christmas in Gran Canaria is truly a unique experience. And don´t forget to check out this full calendar of events going down in December 2018 in Gran Canaria.
1. Nativity Scene Sand Sculpture in Las Canteras
Belen de arena de Las Canteras
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria boasts the biggest sand sculpture belén (nativity scene) in the world, and it’s definitely worth a look! The elaborate nativity scene is built up and embellished at the north end of Las Canteras beach in La Puntilla and is impossible to miss.
The nativity scene sand sculpture is designed and maintained every year by a team of international artists from Turkey, Belgium, Italy and more. Entry is free, but donations are accepted at the exit and later put toward food banks to keep bellies of the less fortunate full over the holidays, so don´t be a Grinch on your way out!
In 2018, the innauguration will be on December 1 and you can come see the nativity scene from then until Three Kings Day on January 6ᵗʰ.
To avoid crowds and take it all in without the rush, try to visit in the morning or on a weekday. Crowds increase the closer it gets to Christmas.
2. Christmas Carols, Folk Dances & Ranchos de Pascua
Christmas carols in the Canary Islands mean plenty of tambourines, timples and of course, locals donning traditional Canary dress.
For nearly 500 years, local village musical troupes have come together to sing Christmas carols (villancicos) and Ranchos de Pascau (similar to the ranchos de animas that you may have heard during the Noche de Finaos celebrations in October). The troupes gather together in churches, restaurants, plazas and processions, often collecting money to be donated toward local charities.
Some towns also host folk dances to celebrate the season. The most well-known in Gran Canaria is the Baile de la Cunita at the church in the lovely village of Santa María de Guía in northern Gran Canaria, where couples dance around a small cradle on Christmas day.
This Christmas season will also see the Museo Castilla la Mata in Vegueta hosting a series of jazz concerts and a Christmas carol competition. Parque Doramas in Ciudad Jardín (Las Palmas) will alos be hosting traditional Canarian music from some of the most well known folk musicians on the island – dates and details here.
3. Christmas Markets
Christmas markets are a fixture of towns and cities throughout Europe. While Gran Canaria may not boast quite the same gorgeous glühwein-fueled markets as in Germany or other northern European destinations, we still have our fair share of charming Christmas craft fairs and markets to enjoy gift shopping and soak up Christmas cheer.
While new ones are popping up throughout the island every year, here are a few that are already set in stone for Christmas 2018:
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
Parque Santa Catalina: The biggest artisanal Christmas market in the Canary Islands will be hosted from December 5-9, 2018 near Parque Santa Catalina just behind the Museo Elder.
Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Ciudad Jardín will be selling sweets and treats, books and knick knacks, handcrafted items and more. They´ll also provide light snacks and refreshments and a nice chat (December 1, 2018).
Associación Atlas Azotea Market is a co-op that combines a hostel with events like concerts and documentary screenings on their rooftop in La Isleta. For a more alternative market, head upstairs and help support local artisans at the market on their rooftop terrace (December 22, 2018).
Parque San Telmo: official 2018 date TBA
Gran Canaria North
Christmas Market in Moya: December 7-8, 2018
Gran Canaria South
Christmas Market Playa del Inglés: Hotel Maritim Playa, every weekend of December
Maspalomas Costa Canaria Market: official 2018 date TBA
Playa de Mogán Christmas Market: official 2018 date TBA
4. Nativity Scenes in Gran Canaria
Belenes en Gran Canaria
As in the rest of Spain, nativity scenes play a big part in terms of Christmas traditions. Aside from the enormous sand sculpture in Las Canteras, you can find a belén in almost every Canarian home, as well as in the churches and in many parks, plazas and even shopping centers.
Some towns and villages even organize live nativity scenes (belenes vivientes), where life-sized props and scenery are set up and people dress up in biblical costumes to represent Jesus´ birth in Bethlehem. You can find live nativity scenes in Veneguera, San Bartolomé de Tirajana and San Mateo.
Other towns and villages are known for their intricately carved nativity miniatures, like the lovely elaborate scene in Arucas Parque Municipal.
5. Christmas Cuisine in Gran Canaria
Like the rest of Spain, seafood plays a big role in Canarian Christmas celebrations. Local delights like cherne (white fish), lapas and langostinas (prawns) can be found on many Canarian tables, as well as carnivorous Canarian specialties like rabbit and baby goat meat. Here you can find a run down of all the Canarian specialties you might expect to taste at Christmastime.
Christmas dinner is celebrated on Christmas Eve (December 24ᵗʰ) and another elaborate meal in served on Three King´s Day (January 6ᵗʰ). If you´re invited to share Christmas dinner with a Canarian family, you can expect a late night. More traditional families may head to misa de gallo (midnight mass) after the meal, while the majority of families will be up until the wee hours sipping champagne, honey rum or liquor de anís over a few laughs at home. Many of the 20 and 30-somethings may even head out to dance away the extra Christmas kilos at venues like Chester, Tao and Azotea de Benito.
As in the rest of Spain (and the world!) sweets play an important role throughout the holiday season. The usual turrón and polvorónes can be found at every market, home and Christmas party, but the island´s specialty are truchas. This tasty treat is made from puffed pastry stuffed with cinnamony sweet potatoes or pumpkin and baked to crunchy, puffy, perfect perfection. Truchas are often served warm and drizzled with miel de palma alongside hot chocolate or something stronger, like anís.
If you´re here on holiday with no hope for a local Christmas invite, be sure to make reservations for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and 3 King´s Day meals sooner than later, as most restaurants will be closed and tables at the few that remain open will fill up fast.
6. 3 King´s Parade & 3 King´s Day
Los Reyes Magos Cabalgata
If you’ve ever celebrated Christmas in Spain, you know that as far as gifts are concerned, Christmas is nothing compared to Three King’s Day on January 6ᵗʰ.
While Santa Claus has become an ever more common fixture of Christmas over recent years, tradition maintains that the biggest and best Christmas surprises are delivered by the three wise men on the 6ᵗʰ of January, travelling all the way from Bethlehem.
Like most Spanish cities, Las Palmas hosts an annual parade in honor of the tres magos, and lucky for us (or them?) they don’t have to travel as far from Africa to get here. The day before gifts are given, the 3 kings arrive at the port of Las Palmas by boat and parade through the city along with their camels.
Children eagerly push to the front of the line to catch a glimpse of their favorite wise man and to collect the sweets being tossed from the procession. Spirits are high and the children´s excitement is palpable as the holiday season builds up to it´s climax on the 6ᵗʰ of January as hover boards, Play Stations and mobile phones are delivered to eager (and somewhat spoilt) hands.
In Las Palmas, the Janaury 5ᵗʰ festivities begin in and around Parque Santa Catalina from about 10:30 am, where children will be delighted by magicians, clowns and plenty of candy. The Three Wise Men are scheduled to arrive by boat around 11:30, but the procession doesn´t start until about 17:00, right before the sun starts to set and the wise men get ready to make their nocturnal deliveries.
What´s your favorite part about Christmas in the Canaries?
For me, it´s the sunshine, the sweets and the champagne. What´s your favorite part about Christmas in the Canary Islands? Have you celebrated in Gran Canaria, or in any of the other islands? What about in mainland Spain?
I´d love to here about your experiences! In the meantime, you can find out more about Spanish Christmas traditions and celebrations here. Hapy holidays, and of course, Feliz Navidad!