Special Occasions in Spain
Lets start with birthdays. Birthdays are pretty low-key events in Spain – not like in the UK where it’s something to look forward to all year round and people have big parties for landmark birthdays such as 18, 40 and 60. I suppose one advantage of being in Spain is that if you’re 40 or 50, people don’t make a huge fuss about it. The Spanish don’t really send cards – I think you can tell that from the selection of cards on sale at some shops. And don’t expect piles of presents either. Close relatives might give presents, but these will probably be small and again, low-key, unless of course you have a party in which case most guests will bring along a gift of some sort.
Most people celebrate their birthday with a few drinks and maybe tapas. But before you invite the whole office out for drinks, one thing you should know is that in Spain the birthday boy or girl pays. The Catholic church in Spain is worried about falling church attendance, but even though most people don’t go to church, most parents have their children christened and most children take their first communion. Christenings are usually pretty big affairs with friends and relatives. Children are christened quite young – at about three months – and have one godfather and one godmother. If you are asked to be a godparent, consider this to be a huge privilege, but be aware that this means you’re condemned to a lifetime of expensive birthday and Christmas presents.
And what about first communions? In spring, clothes shops are full of outfits and go to any restaurant in May or June on a Saturday and your meal takes second place to a child’s first communion celebrations. First communions are huge events and apparnelty families spend more than €2,500 per child. The religious ceremony doesn’t seem to be that important for many children (and definitely not for their parents). The most important things are the outfit – girls wear white bridal dresses with shoes, gloves, hair accessories and even bags to match, and boys wear navy sailor suits – and another important thing is the party, which is usually at a venta in the countryside or restaurant.
Formal photos are taken of the child and the best one is put in pride of place in the parents’ home forever afterwards. If you’re invited, you need to spend at least 40 to 50 euros on the present, more if you’re a close friend or relative. Seeing the piles of presents at first communions is a bit like being in a toy shop and most children like to boast they take their first communion just so they can get the presents.
Weddings are major logistical events and families spend between 20 and 30,000 euros on them. Expect a big celebration – at least 100 guests is the norm – and set aside a whole weekend as most weddings last well into the small hours – 5 or 6am finish is common – meaning you’ll need the next day to recover. Dress is usually formal and most Spaniards, particularly women, really dress up for a wedding – some more successfully than others, but all go to the hairdressers before hand and are immaculately groomed. And for men, it’s definitely suit and tie. As for gifts, wedding etiquette says you should spend at least as much as the cost of your meal on a present so that’s at least €50 – twice as much if you’re a couple. Most couples have a wedding present list in the inevitable Corte Inglés and some people put everything on their list, even toilet roll holders and wooden spoons so you’ve got plenty of choice. The groom is accompanied by his mother and the bride by her father. Bridesmaids and pages are common in church ceremonies and usually walk in front of the bride down the aisle. The ceremony is pretty similar to other countries and the couple exchanges rings and 13 small coins, called arras, which symbolise their shared wealth. At the end, witnesses sign the certificate. When the couple leave, they’re showered with rice (uncooked, that is).
The party is, of course, the best bit. Expect a three-course meal as well as nibbles and drinks when you arrive at the venue. The desert is usually the cake and one of the best things about Spanish weddings is that there are no speeches. Guests just get straight down to dancing and drinking the night away, literally.
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