Traditions and Customs in Spanish Culture
To visit Spain is to immerse yourself in a different environment. Spanish customs and traditions have been practiced in Spain for hundreds of years. It can truly be said that Spain is immersed in traditions that emphasize their regional identity and differences. Visiting Spain during any holiday is an exciting and enthralling adventure that visitors will never forget.
Other customs and traditions in Spain have existed since its beginning. Birthdays are different in Spain than in the United States, and many countries around the World. Yes, the kids can still have birthday parties with cake and presents, but for adults, it's different. In Spain, it's customary for an adult experiencing a birthday to treat other adults to drinks.
Every region throughout Spain has its own customs and traditions, including those involving weddings, baptisms, and death.
Wedding Traditions and Customs
As with many other traditions and customs in Spain, wedding traditions differ depending upon region. The customs and traditions under discussion in this article are not meant to be all-inclusive. For example, depending on the age and traditional values of individual families, some of the customs we'll briefly mention are not followed by everyone of Spanish and Latin American descent.
Some of the most common traditional wedding customs include but are not limited to:
- The groom offering a watch to the bride's father after the marriage proposal is accepted.
- The bride's dresses range in style from the traditional white worn by women in the West to black lace and silk gowns traditional in Spanish culture. Regardless of the dress, a lace mantilla is often secured to the bride's hair with a fancy comb. Brides may even wear a flamenco style dress in Andalusia, a region of southern Spain.
- Flowers are popular for any wedding ceremony regardless of region. Orange blossoms are popular in the region of Seville and represent promise. Brides from Andalusia or Castille may prefer pink and white flowers.
- In many regions, the wedding ceremony begins with an exchange of 13 gold coins. The coins are blessed by the priest officiating the wedding and presented in a special box or cloth purse. The coins represent a dowry, the promise of the new groom to support his wife, and is also said to represent Jesus Christ and his disciples.
- Wedding rings are exchanged and worn on the ring fingers of the right hand.
- Firecrackers often welcome the emergence of the new couple from the church.
- At the celebration reception, guests perform a traditional dance called the seguidillas manchegas.
In the old days, marriages were arranged. Today, Spaniards marry for mutual love and attraction to one another. In many cases in regions throughout Spain and Latin America, many people marry within their own social class.
Baptisms are extremely important in the Spanish and Latin American culture. Baptism typically follows Catholic rites. A Catholic baptism is a serious and well thought-out event for those of Spanish and Latin American descent. Before the baptism, Catholic parents select sponsors or Godparents for their infant. These Godparents or sponsors are required to take classes. Godparents take an active role in the ceremony during the baptismal rites by holding the child and offering assurances for the child's spiritual growth.
Godparents are expected to be active in the Catholic faith, spiritual, have a deep faith, and engage in prayer. During the baptismal ceremony, the infant is dressed in a traditional and decorative white christening gown. It's not uncommon to find christening gowns passed down from one generation to the next.
The Catholic rite of baptism is broken down into four different stages, each symbolizing the process of a child's introduction or initiation into the church family. In regions around Spain and throughout Latin America, parents are encouraged to baptize their children within the first few weeks of their child's birth.
A girl's 15th birthday is an important time in her life. Known as Quinceaneras, Fiesta Rosa, Quinces or Fiesta Quinceaneras, the tradition is popular throughout Spain, Latin America, and in neighborhoods where Spaniards and Latin Americans reside around the World. The Quinceaneras literally marks a rite of passage from girlhood to womanhood in Spanish culture. Every region, town, or family may celebrate it with variations, but basically, it's a big party.
Quinceanera is a celebration that marks a young girl's introduction into "society" on her 15th birthday. The quinceanera celebration begins with a religious service, followed by a dedication mass. Following the religious service, music, and dance, festivities take place.
The girl wears a fancy, colorful, and elaborate dress, typically found in pastel shades. The girl dances a waltz with her father, older brother, or other male relative. However, as with the changing times and customs, many young teenage girls celebrating their 15th birthdays today are offered less formal affairs.
Every culture has its own traditions and customs regarding death, funerals, and burials. In Spain, one of the most notable national holidays is called All Saints' Day. On this day, family members dress up in their finest, purchase flowers, and visit the graves of their loved ones.
In Spain, a burial or cremation may occur very quickly following the death of a loved one, often within 24 hours. In many regions throughout Spain, plans for funerals and burials are usually begun when it is known someone is on their deathbed. Communion and last rites are offered, followed by a blessing.
Following the death of a family member or loved one, someone within the family is usually chosen to stay with the body to keep them company and to make sure they are treated properly. Then, the deceased is prepared for burial. Often, a wake will be held. During a wake, family members, friends, and loved ones sit with the deceased until the burial, again to keep them company. Wakes are a social event and considered a time in many cultures to laugh, remember, and to honor not only the loved ones, but also family members that have not been seen in some time.
Food and drink is served during the wake, and prayers are offered. A Rosario is set for nine days following the death and then on consecutive anniversaries of the death. Candles and flowers are a large part of any funeral in Spanish and Latin American cultures, and are used to decorate the location of the wake, the funeral, and the burial grounds.
The wake is followed by the funeral service. Depending on preference, personal items may be placed into the casket with the deceased person as a final gift or token of love Burial usually immediately follows the funeral service.
Spanish culture throughout Spain and Latin America encourages family members to tend to the gravesite in a diligent and respectful manner. Following the burial, grieving family members and loved ones gather yet again for a supper and reception. This gives everyone a chance to mingle, to cry, socialize, and to comfort grieving family members.
From explorers to painters, Spain has offered the world a wealth of cultural influences. Travelers to Spain and other Latin American countries would do well to briefly research the individuals who have shaped the country to which they are traveling. Doing so helps visitors grow more aware of the reasons for cultural differences, the festivals held in foreign destinations that honor the influence of such individuals, and enable visitors to experience a greater appreciation of such countries.
Spaniards Who Helped Shape Spain
While we're not going to get into a great, in-depth history of every Spanish explorer, painter, musician, or literary giant who helped shape the culture of Spain today, we do want to offer our students a brief glimpse into the lives of famous Spanish individuals who helped shape the politics, culture, religion, and beliefs of Spaniards today.
The song, dance, and paintings of Spaniards inevitably display a passionate temperament. Spaniards are a people who appreciate the arts. They're also a bold people, as is seen through its early explorers such as Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes and also the discoverer of the Pacific, Vasco Núñez de Balboa. Francisco Pizarro conquered the Inca Empire of Peru, while closer to home, El Cid still lives in the memories of Spain as one of her most beloved knights and heroes.
Spanish explorers brought an increase of wealth, power, and prestige to Spain. The daring of explorers increased trading opportunities, built the great Spanish Empire, and helped to spread the Christian religion to all corners of the globe.
Spanish explorers and conquistadors explored and expanded Spanish influence in the Caribbean and South America. Hernando de Soto and Juan Ponce de Leon dared to explore the inner expanses of the New World at a time when Spain expanded her dominion and sought new lands around the World.
Hernando de Soto led one of the first Western European expeditions into the southern regions of the United States and is among the first to cross the great Mississippi River. De Soto was determined to search for gold and a route through the New World to China. Eventually, De Soto conquered many lands in South America including Nicaragua and the Yucatan before eventually setting out to conquer the great Inca Empire of Peru.
Ponce de Leon discovered Florida, seeking the elusive fountain of youth. Ponce de Leon became the first governor of Puerto Rico. Before that, in 1493, he and his soldiers joined the second voyage of Christopher Columbus to the New World. Ferdinand Magellan was among the first Spaniards to sail the Pacific Ocean toward the Orient
The history and journeys of Spanish explorers and conquistadors are fascinating. American students should be aware of the vast influence (both good and bad) that Spanish exploration had on the development of today's United States.
The Spaniards and Latin Americans are especially fond of their art, and art appreciation dates back centuries. From the works of Francisco Goya to Salvador Dali, the Spaniards are people that appreciate both introspection and passion.
Spaniards also enjoy the theater, the opera, and ballet. Auditoriums, symphony concerts, and such venues are found within every major city in Spain. Cities such as Madrid, Seville and Barcelona offer a variety of concert and entertainment choices as well as hosting visiting symphonies and native orchestras.
The National Auditorium of Music (Auditorio Nacional de Musica) is located in Madrid. Their resident orchestra, the Orquesta Nacional de España, as well as the Orquesta Sinfonica de Madrid and theCommunity of Madrid Orchestra, provide nearly year round entertainment.
Attending classical theater, art exhibitions, and cultural events is a favorite pastime in Spain. Visitors to Spain should always be aware of what's going on in the cities that they are visiting. Don't miss out on events such as the Contemporary Ballet Theatre, the Youth Orchestra of Andalusia, or famous operas held in Seville.
One of the most well known locations for dance and music is the Barcelona Flamenco Cafe Royale. Visitors to Madrid should make a point to see an opera or a classical song and dance event at the gorgeous Royal Theatre.
Wherever you travel in Spain, some form of entertainment awaits you. Fiestas, festivals, and events are popular year-round, offering plentiful opportunities for immersing oneself into the culture of Spanish art, theater, dance, and song.
Gonzlez Lucas to golfer Severiano Ballesteros, to Spanish soccer greats like Xavi and Andres Iniesta, the Spanish people are equally passionate about their soccer, basketball, tennis, and golf.
One of the most popular sports in Spain is, of course, football (soccer to Americans). However, Spaniards also like Formula One auto races, water sports, cycling, and handball. As a former host to the Summer Olympics (Barcelona,1992), Spanish citizens are more than happy to take an afternoon or evening away from work to enjoy an exciting, competitive event, regardless of its nature.
If you happen to visit Spain during football season, be prepared to see some of the World's greatest competitions between successful Spanish teams and rivals. Two teams, Barcelona and Real Madrid, have long dominated La Liga.
Indoor football, known as Futsal is also very popular in Spain. In Spain, the game is played, not on a soft ground surface, but a hard court surface. The ball used in Futsal is smaller than the ball used in regular football or soccer.
Visitors to the Basque and Valencia regions of Spain may enjoy traditional Spanish sports such as Basque pelota and Valencian pilota. Basque pelota is similar to American racquetball, with a twist. Basque pelota is a court sport where the individual uses a racket, their hand, a basket or a wooden bat against a wall, or across the net, similar to tennis.
Valencian pelota is similar to racquetball, without the use of rackets. It's a handball sport where the ball is batted back and forth over a net with a bare hand. In lieu of the net, a line on the ground is also utilized to differentiate sides and play.
During any season, chances are your visit to Spain will coincide with some type of festival or celebration. Take the opportunity to see and visit as much as you can while in Spain, whether you're there for business or pleasure. Take the time before you go, to learn about some famous Spaniards and how they helped shape and grow Spain to the country it is today. After all, statues and monuments and beautiful landmarks throughout Spain honor their legacy.