Spanish Christmas Foods

Christmas is about food (among other things), and in Spain it’s no different: food is the perfect way to gather the family, sit down to a huge meal, and talk and drink for hours. What foods remind you of Christmas? For me, it would have to be turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, pies, and Christmas cookies. Let’s not talk about eggnog, please. In Spain, things are a little different (as always).

Salamanca Spain Christmas


What do Spaniards eat at Christmas?

Keeping in mind that this varies by household, here are some of what Mario’s family and friends along with my students here in Madrid eat for Christmas:


Spain Christmas Prawns


If you don’t know much about Spain, this may surprise you: Seafood? At Christmas? But yes, it’s true—seafood is one thing my students always mention when we talk about Christmas meals. Shrimp, prawns, octopus … you get the picture! Christmas and seafood, mariscos in Spanish, are not incompatible. Here in Spain, the selection is almost always fresh and good quality, so what’s not to love? Except if you’re an octopus hater like me.

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How to Host Thanksgiving in Spain

Having hosted two Thanksgivings in Spain, I now consider myself an expert, obviously. That’s just how these things go.


  • Buy a female turkey, una pavita. I had no idea before 2010, but smaller turkeys are tastier



Mario helped too!

  • Have a pinche, a sous chef. Mario’s father, Jesús, was my sous chef, and the best one there could possibly be. He spent the whole morning chopping, cutting, and just generally being helpful. Also, he is totally relaxed. Find one of those.
  • There will be bread. This is Spain, how could there not be?
  • Stand up to the idea of primer plato, segundo plato. Stay steadfast in your American-type meal and have your guests eat everything off the same plate. The horror!



  • Let someone else make the dessert, even if they make it differently than you would. This year, we didn’t have the traditional pumpkin pie; rather, we had a sort of pumpkin cake. No big deal. We ate some pumpkin, okay?!


  • Drink local wine. Better yet, have another person bring that local wine, especially someone from Toro!

There you go, my recommendations for a Spanish-American Thanksgiving. Go forth, and roast yourself a turkey!

My First Thanksgiving

This was not, actually, my first Thanksgiving. It was, however, my first Thanksgiving in which:

  • I was in charge of all the dishes
  • I was cooking in Mario’s mother’s kitchen
  • I was the resident American expert
  • I got very stressed out

Thanksgivings past involved much less stress and much more Cool Whip. The Wednesday before was the baking day. Up to our elbows in flour, butter, and sugar, we’d bake into the night, pie after pie emerging from our poor, overworked oven, the smell of pumpkin, cinnamon, and nutmeg filling our house. My mother always made too many pies, more than even our large extended family could eat in one day. Her staples were pumpkin and pecan. And oh, the crescent rolls, we mustn’t forget those buttery, crispy pastries, the ones that could only be improved by, yes, more butter.

This Thanksgving started unceremoniously with 95% alcohol, a match, and a dead female turkey.

No big deal.

As was explained to me, this is to 1) clean the bird and 2) remove any feathers that might still be lurking. As one who is currently opposed to the ingestion of any and all feathers, I was all for it. Plus, it involved fire in a small Spanish kitchen!

The next four hours involved lots and lots of chopping, weighing, and conversions from English measurements to metric. How much is 6 tablespoons of butter? As Paula Deen would say, NOT ENOUGH. Add more delicious butter, lick it off the knife or your fingers, and again add some more. Butter should never feel superfluous. Not in my kitchen. Not in yours. I only had one small breakdown when Mario’s mother questioned me rapidfire in Spanish until I no longer knew how to say my own name. (I exaggerate.) I was trying to say “Bring it to a boil, lower the heat, and let it simmer.” I knew boil and I knew heat, but I couldn’t say “Bring it to a boil.” Now I know and I will surely never forget it. Ingrained is the word I’m looking for here.

Finally, it was time to eat. Mario’s brother Victor had spent some time designing a menu, which was completely adorable. Unfortunately, he asked me to revise it in the midst of the midmorning madness and I must admit I skimmed it. Thus, we ended up with parsil instead of parsley and pumpkin cake instead of pumpkin pie. Oh well, close enough.

My favorite part includes croutons in quotations because there is no word for it here, smashed potatoes, and the fact that both “piña troceada” and “surtido de dulces variados” mean “sliced pineapple.” Obviously, Victor knows better than that; it was just an error. We mustn’t forget the wines and various liquers either. Victor brought a cognac that Mario invited me to smell in order to clear out my sinus cavity. No thanks.

Turkey resting in the oven

Finished product. I am happy.

The dinner was a success. The two biggest winner were the stuffing and the maple glazed carrots. (I didn’t add the orange juice to the carrots.) Also, the “cranberry sauce” (actually made with raspberries, cranberries, blueberries, and blackberries) was a hit.

María José, Mario’s cousin and godmother, made a pumpkin pie. Actually, she used butternut squash, but, as I’ve informed my mother and Aunt Diane, Libby’s pumpkin is actually a variety of butternut squash (I know. Totes scandalous!), so it was pretty much the real deal. Too bad I’m not pumpkin pie’s biggest fan, but it was very good!

At the end of the day, I was quite happy with how it all turned out. María José kept asking for the stuffing recipe, and I think they’ll eat it at Christmas time, too. The turkey was good and not dry. Good conversation was had, even if their style of discussion seems like a heated argument to me.

After they had all left, Mario and I went out running, which turned out to be just what I needed. However, when Mario’s mother found out, she reprimanded me, telling me I should’ve just taken a nap, there was no need to go out running, you crazy girl. Oh well, you win some, you lose some, right?!