MADRID, Spain, November 21, 2005 – Christmas decorations and festive holiday markets brighten the plazas of Spain’s cities and the air is filled with the scent of roasting castañas (chestnuts). Concerts, Christmas pageants, bonfires, fireworks and circus performances make the country a month-long, non-stop fiesta.

Valencia’s shop keepers literally roll out red carpets for customers during the holiday season and the city’s Christmas markets – offering handmade ornaments, nativity figurines and traditional holiday foods – are among Spain’s most festive. While hotels and homes have the obligatory Christmas tree, pride of place in town squares is given to nativity scenes, or belenes which depict Jesus, Mary and Joseph and Los Reyes Magos, the Three Kings. From early December through January 6, Spain offers a full calendar of festivities for visitors.

· December 8 – The Feast of the Immaculate Conception ushers in the start of the religious celebrations and in Seville people dance in the streets and tunas, students in 17th century costume, serenade passers by.

· December 12 – The second week of December signals the beginning of the Christmas decoration season. Particularly festive is Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter which overflows with Christmas ornaments and lights and a huge nativity scene.

· December 22 – Marking the winter solstice – and the shortest day of the year – bonfires are lit during Hogueras.

· December 20-25 – While nativity scenes are commonplace throughout Spain, Corbera de Llobregat and other towns in Catalonia go a step further staging nativity plays (pessebres or pastorets) chronicling biblical events including Jesus’ birth and the flight to Egypt.

· December 22 – Today’s the drawing for the Christmas lottery and Spaniards wait to hear who won the first prize, or El Gordo (the fat one).

· December 24 – According to Basque tradition, the olentzero, a coal miner who loves food and wine, comes down from the mountain on Christmas eve, or Nochebuena (goodnight) to announce the birth of Jesus. Parades are held honoring the olentzero represented as a straw-filled doll dressed in the Basque cap, or boina, goatskin vest and adorned with a wine flask, frying pan and chorizos. Midnight mass is celebrated in the smallest hamlets. While many restaurants close, hotels offer festive menus often starting with grilled prawns and copious tapas, followed by a capon, goose or turkey and rounded off with typical holiday sweets like the nougat and almond turrón and polvorones made from sugar, almonds and flour and a toast with bubbly cava.

· December 25 – Christmas Day is a national holiday and while shops are closed, restaurants do a brisk business as Spaniards and visitors alike enjoy a copious afternoon meal. Children may receive small gifts, but the big day for presents is Three Kings Day.

· December 28 – Holy Innocents Day (Día de los Inocentes) is the Spanish April Fool’s Day with pranksters playing practical jokes.

· December 30 – Festa del Pi, the Feast of the Pine Tree in Centelles near Barcelona, commemorates the martyrdom of Santa Coloma – burned on a fire of pine branches – with a lively fiesta that includes parading a pine tree through the streets and a show of fireworks.

· December 31 – On New Year’s Eve, Nochevieja, Spaniards must swallow twelve grapes at each stroke of midnight to ensure good health and fortune for the coming year. The most spectacular celebration takes place in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol and visitors are invited to party until sunrise at hotels and clubs in the capital and throughout the country.

· January 1 – Many choose to spend New Year’s Day as a day of rest.

· January 5 – Festivities and processions with appropriate pageantry mark the arrival of the Three Kings in every town in the country. In most of Spain, Los Reyes Magos come by camel. But they also sail into seaside cities on stately vessels (Barcelona, Valencia and Malaga) or fishing canoes (La Coruña in Galicia). In the Sierra Nevada, the Three Kings ski down to the villages while in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands they have been known to arrive by helicopter.

· January 6 – On the Feast of the Epiphany, the day when the Three Kings arrived in Bethlehem, Spanish children wake up to gifts. Los Reyes Magos also distribute presents to children in hospitals throughout the country. Roscon de reyes – a pound cake shaped like a doughnut – is served and one lucky person finds the prize inside.

A number of tour operators have special Christmas and New Year’s packages to Spain. Central Holidays is offering two “Flamenco for New Year’s” packages this holiday season. Starting at $660 per person, the three-night “Flamenco for New Year’s” package in Madrid includes accommodations at a four-star hotel, airport transfers, a “hop-on-hop-off” city tour and a special gala New Year’s Eve dinner with flamenco show at the Tablao Corral de la Moreria. The six-night Madrid and Seville “Flamenco for New Year’s” package starts at $819 per person and includes a New Year’s gala with flamenco show at the Tablao Palacio Andaluz in Seville. Taxes and service charges are extra. For information contact Central Holidays at 800-935-5000 or go to www.centralholidays.com

For further information, contact the Tourist Office of Spain, at 1-212-265-8822 or www.spain.info