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March 9, 1731

Home Spotlight on the Canary Islands Many descendants of the Canary Island families have never visited the Canary Islands.  This Spotlight is intended to provide a brief overview of many of the Islands favorite sites.  Please check back frequently as it will change.


In the Canary Islands many of the Christmas traditions are the same as celebrated in United States, however, some are really quite different.   Each of the Islands has a little different way of celebrating the Christmas season.

Christmas festivities (Navidad) in the Canaries span through Advent, a time of preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas until Three Kings Day (Reyes Magos) or Epiphany on January 6th, when tradition says that the three kings, the Magi or "Wise Men", visited baby Jesus in Bethlehem and presented him with three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  The Christmas season begins in Tenerife with two Fiestas in early December: Constitution Day on December 6 and the Immaculate Conception on December 8.  It's tradition to put up Christmas decorations on the latter date.

December 22nd is an important date with the El Gordo lottery, or Christmas lottery also known as the “Sorteo de Navidad” which was used for the first time in 1892. The Christmas Lottery is considered the biggest lottery in the world.  Christmas Eve is celebrated with family; Christmas Day has a tradition for visiting Mount Teide. December 28th, the Day of the Innocent Saints is the Spanish equivalent to "April Fool’s Day" which is followed soon after by a traditional  New Year’s Eve.

Christmas is traditionally celebrated in two parts in the Canary Islands. The first part (Navidad) is on December 25th, celebrated with a large family dinner, followed by going out to see nativity displays in town, many of which are made from sand on beaches. One of the best-known beaches for this is Gran Canaria's Playa de las Canteras, where artists create impressive public sand sculptures.  On Christmas Eve many people attend midnight mass and in some places this is followed by Baile del Niño (Dance of the Child) where groups dress in traditional clothing and dance before the image of baby Jesus.

In many towns and villages on the island of Lanzarote, they create a Belén, which is a nativity scene, based around the landscape and features of Lanzarote.  Several of the photos seen here are taken in the little town of Yaiza, which is the local center of government.

What Americans celebrate as Christmas Day, December 25th, is only a minor festival for the Canarians, so life goes on pretty much as normal, with the shops all open.  The Christmas weather and the sea are warm enough for sunbathing, and for swimming, even for young children. And the restaurants in, for example, the resort town of Playa Blanca do a roaring trade with all the British, Irish and German visitors demanding a traditional Christmas lunch.

In the Canary Islands, the Divinos (heavenly individuals) go carol-singing to the accompaniment of various musical instruments such as mandolins, tambourines and guitars.  Lo Divino is the most traditional Canarian Christmas carol.  It was composed by Fermín Cedrés, a composer from Tenerife, at the beginning of the 20th century. This carol is so popular that folk music groups that go carol singing in towns and cities in Tenerife at Christmas are called "Lo Divino."

The Day of the Three Kings takes place on January 6th, although it is celebrated the night before. The eve of the Day of the Three Kings can be considered the second part of Spanish Christmas. On that night, presents are exchanged and families take children to see parades that honor the Three Kings (or Wise Men), where candy is tossed to the children and the crowd by the paraders.  The most important thing of the entire parade is of course the Three Kings coming down the street on their camels.  Every family member has to put out a shoe so the Kings know how many people to bring presents for.  They also put out drinks and treats for the Three Kings, much like we do for Santa but more in a Spanish tradition because they put out dried figs instead of cookies, water for the camels instead of carrots or whatever for the reindeer, and a little bit of an alcoholic beverage for each King instead of milk. Children fill their shoes with straw or grain for the Three Kings' camels to eat and place them on balconies or by the front door. The next morning, they find cookies, sweets, and gifts in their place.  The Three Kings are to Canarian children are what Santa Claus is to their American counterparts. In Santa Cruz, Tenerife's capital, the holy monarchs arrive via helicopter to the CD Tenerife's football stadium before setting off on camels as part of a festive parade. After the colorful excitement of the evening, children head home to an early bedtime and await the following morning, when they discover the begging-to-be-opened presents left by the Three Kings.  The streets will be decorated with lights and Christmas decorations and there is a Three Kings Procession. This fiesta is very much oriented towards the children.

The CIDA would like to thank John Brindley for providing a majority of the photos seen here.

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

John Brindley's Blog

Canarian Folk Music - the Timple.

The Role of Water in the Decision to Emigrate from Lanzarote To San Antonio.

John Brindley’s blog containing articles from his research on Lanzarote.

The Lanzarote They Left Behind

Click here to go to John’s blog. Use the back button to return to the CIDA webpages.