Spanish Blog

Cultural Festivities – Spanish Christmas (I) 1

Ho, ho, ho The Christmas season has come. And since learning a language is much more than learning some vocabulary and structures, I am determined (and delighted) to showing you some of the cultural aspects of this Christmas season in Spain, which will be very helpful to understand the Spanish culture better and will give you a flavor of Spain and its Christmas.

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The Spanish Christmas go around many of the same traditions as they do in the rest of the world. It’s all about family gatherings, celebration, kindness, generosity… As well as food, drink, villancicos (‘Christmas carols’) and gifts. However there are peculiarities, some customs and traditions that make Christmas in Spain different from any other countries.

As you know, Spain is quite a big country with many different regions (13 to be precise) and each one holds special customs.  You must have into account as well that Spain has a very religious past, so a traditional Christmas would revolve around religious customs.

24th of December: Christmas Eve ☞ Nochebuena (Goodnight)

Nochebuena is probably the most important family gathering of the year.

In the evening, people will gather after work to celebrate the beginning of the Christmas holidays with friends and few glasses of cava (‘champagne’). After that, people go home to their families and enjoy a typical Christmas meal with the family. A typical Christmas dinner will vary from region to region but some common ingredients will be some fish, like  lubina al horno (‘baked sea bass’) or besugo al horno (‘baked red sea bream’), the turkey is not that common in Spain, although we still can have roast suckling pig in some parts, but fish is the most common mean dish in a Christmas dinner. Around the fish one can find sea food, like prawns and crayfish, clams, mussels and octopus… In some regions, lombarda (‘red cabbage’) is a traditional Christmas dish and in others is the roast stuffed capon… As you can see, different dishes from different regions.

What is a common thing is going with the family to the Misa del Gallo (‘Midnight mass’) which literally means Rooster’s Mass where the Christians commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Santa Claus or Papá Noel, as we call him in Spain, does not make part of the traditional Spanish Christmas and it’s quite recent. In Spain, the gifts are given in Reyes, the 6th of January (the Epiphany) but we’ll talk about that in a following post. However, since the 6th of January is the end of Christmas holidays, some families adopted the Santa Claus custom just to give the gifts at the beginning of the holidays so that the children can enjoy their presents during the holidays.



As I was saying, Papá Noel is not part of the Spanish Christmasy figures, but we have other traditional personages that also bring presents to well behaved children, like the Olentzero, a coalman who lives in the mountains and come the 24th to bring gifts to children in the Basque Country.

25 th of December: Christmas Day ☞ Navidad

Navidad is national holiday in Spain so all business and shops are closed this day, although it’s not a day of a big celebration. It’s a day of relax instead where people usually go out in the morning and have an aperitif with other members of the family. We have a very large meal at lunch time.

During the day, well, from the 24th to the end of the Christmas season on the 6th, we have always a plate with turrón (‘a kind of nougat’), peladillas (‘sugared almonds’), mazapanes (‘marzipan’), mantecados and polvorones (‘some kind of shortbread but not exactly’).



The decoration for Christmas is a nativity scene, called Belén, which always have the figurines of baby Jesus,  Joseph and Mary, and the ox and the mule. In some houses the Belén is very big and has the Three Wise Men, the shepherds and angels, the village of Belem… a very detailed nativity scene as described in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. As I told you before, there are as many Christmas customs as they are regions in Spain, and one funny custom in Catalonia is the figurine called “caganer“, which is a figurine depicted as having a poo… There are even prizes for the best “belén”!

We also have the Árbol de Navidad (‘Christmas tree’), but as Papá Noel, that’s not that traditional.

¡Felices Fiestas!



I leave you with a couple of villancicos (‘Christmas carols’) for you to listen and have a taste of a Christmas in  Spain. Enjoy the angelical voices…!





“¿Qué haces todos los días?” Talking about your daily routines

¿Qué haces todos los días? ☞ What do you do every day?

All of us we have some routine daily activities that we do every day. If you’d ask me the question ¿Qué haces todas las mañanas? My answer would be in the following lines:

Me levanto a las 9 de la mañana. Primero me tomo un café mientras leo mi libro. Luego me ducho, me visto, me peino, me lavo los dientes y me maquillo y al rededor de las 11 de la mañana salgo de casa.

(I wake up at 9 am. First, I have my coffee while I read my book. Then I take a shower, I get dressed, I comb my hair, I wash my teeth and I put on some make up. Afterwards I leave the house around 11 am).

These are the things that I do almost every day and almost in the same order.

To talk about daily activities, we generally use the reflexive form of the verbs (the action is done and received by the same person). Look at this list of daily activities:

Ducharse (have a shower)                           Lavarse (wash oneself                                      Peinarse (comb hair)
Bañarse (have a bath)                                  Maquillarse (put on make up)                          Afeitarse (shave)
Vestirse (get dressed)                                   Despertarse (wake up)                                      Levantarse (get up)

As you can see, all of them end in “se” (reflexive pronoun) which means: 1) that the action is done and received by the same person, and 2) that we need to add a pronoun reflexive before the verb when we conjugate it, like:

Yo me lavo
Tú te lavas
Él se lava
Nosotros nos lavamos
Vosotros os laváis
Ellos se lavan.

Other common activities after the morning ritual are:

Salir de casa (leave the house)                                                                  Ir al trabajo (go to work)
Trabajar (work)                                                                                            Almorzar (have lunch)
Salir del trabajo (leave work)                                                                   Llegar a casa (arrive home)
Estudiar (study)                                                                                           Ver la tele (watch TV)
Navegar por internet (surf the internet)                                              Acostarse (go to bed)
Cenar (have dinner)                                                                                     Dormirse (to fall sleep)

In order to express when we do this activities, the frequency and the length, we need some connecting words, like the following ones:

Todas las mañanas (every morning)                                                       Por la mañana (in the morning)
Todas las tardes (every afternoon)                                                           Por la tarde (in the afternoon)
Todas las noches (every night)                                                                 Por la noche (at night)

A las 9 de la mañana (at 9 in the morning)                                           Primero (first)
A las 5 de la tarde (at 5 in the afternoon)                                               Después (afterwards)
A las 10 de la noche (at 10 at night)                                                         Luego (next, then)
Hasta (until)                                                                                                       Por último / finalmente (finally)


I leave you with few questions and answers:

– ¿Qué haces los lunes por la tarde? ☞ What do you do mondays afternoon?
– Voy a la escuela de idiomas a aprender español y luego vuelvo a casa, estudio, hago la tarea, ceno y me acuesto pronto. ☞ I go to the school of languages to learn Spanish and then I go back home, I study, do the homework, have dinner and go back to bed early.

– ¿Qué haces después de trabajar? ☞ What do you do after work?

– ¿Qué haces antes de dormir? ☞ What do you do before falling asleep?

– ¿A qué hora te despiertas? ☞ What time do you wake up?

Y tú, ¿qué haces todos los días?

Forms of address in Spanish – Uses of the pronouns “ustedes / vosotros” 1


As a petition from one of the followers of my Facebook page Online Spanish Tutor (Check it out to learn daily idioms and expressions and post questions or suggest topics you want to learn about in this blog) I am going to dispel all doubts about the use of the pronouns “tú, vosotros” versus “usted, ustedes“.

I am going to explain, in first place, how we use the politesse forms in Spanish.

is the standard form of the second person of the singular, whereas vosotros / vosotras is the standard form for the plural.

Usted is the courtesy form of the second person of the singular, and ustedes is the courtesy form of the second person of the plural.

So vosotros is the plural of (standard form) and ustedes is the plural of usted (courtesy).

That happens in the majority of Spain but it works differently in South América and some parts of Spain (mainly in the south: Andalucía and Isles Canaries).

Now look at these examples translated all by “what are you doing this weekend?”

¿Qué haces este fin de semana? <— Tú
¿Qué hacéis este fin de semana? <— Vosotros

¿Qué hace este fin de semana? <— Usted
¿Qué hacen este fin de semana? <— Ustedes

As you can see, is followed by the verb in the 2nd person of singular and vosotros by the 2nd person of plural, whereas usted is followed by the 3rd person of singular and ustedes by the 3rd person of plural.

However there are different uses in different parts of Spanish speaking countries. There is no standard form for the 2nd person, as they only use the form “usted / ustedes” with the verb in the 3rd person in Latin America, and the south of Spain prefer using “ustedes” (only in the plural)  but followed by the 2nd person instead of the 3rd!

Look at these examples:

(General Spain) Vosotros vais al cine. (familiar) / Ustedes van al cine. (courtesy)

(South of Spain) Ustedes vais al cine. (both familiar and courtesy forms)

(Latin America) Usted van al cine. (both familiar and courtesy forms)

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Remember! If you have any questions about Spanish language, vocabulary, grammar… that you would like me to solve here, in this blog, just follow my Facebook page and tell me all your doubts!!!


¿Qué tiempo hace? – Talking about the weather in Spanish 2

Talking about the weather is a very handy topic in every language when you don’t know what to say. Here, I am going to give you all the vocabulary necessary to solve this uncomfortable silences in the lift.

When you are talking with someone living in another city or country and you  want to ask what the weather is like over there, you can ask:

– ¿Qué tiempo hace (por allí)?
– What’s the weather like (over there)?


– ¿Cómo hace?
– How’s the weather?

And now, the answers.

  • Weather conditions:











To tinge the weather conditions, you can use “mucho” o “poco” for “hace” and “muy” for “está” right after the verb. Although if the word that follows “está” is a verb, then you can’t use “muy” but “mucho” and you will have to add it after the verb. Look ath the examples:

– Hace mucho frío.
– It’s very cold. 

– Hace poco calor.
– It’s a little hot. 

– Está muy despejado.
– It’s very clear. 

– Está lloviendo mucho.
– It’s raining a lot.

To express the negative of all these ideas, you just need to add “no” in front of the verb.

– No está nevando mucho.
– It’s not snowing a lot.

  • A bit of vocabulary:

– lloviznar > ‘to drizzle’

– granizar > ‘to hail’

– llover > ‘to rain’

– nevar > ‘to snow’ 

– bochorno > ‘muggy weather’

Remember than all this verbs are only in the 3rd person: llovizna (it drizzles), graniza (it hails), llueve (it rains) and nieva (it snows).

To talk about the existence of any weather condition, you can use the verb “hay”.

– Hay mucho viento.
– There is a lot of wind.

– Hay mucha nieve.
– There is a lot of snow.

– Hay niebla.
– It’s foggy.

  • Expressions about the weather.

– Llueve a cántaros = Jarrea (literally means: it’s raining jugs full).
– It’s pouring.

– Hace un frío que pela.
– It’s freezing.

– Hace un calor abrasador / achicharrante.
– It’s scorching.

– Hace un calor que se caen los pájaros (literally menas: it’s so hot that the birds fall down).
– It’s very, very hot.



One verb, multiple uses ¿Vale?

This verb, valer, has different meanings in Spanish.

1. It’s used to ask for the price. It’s is accorded with the item whose price we want to know. Valer = ‘To cost’

– ¿Cuánto vale este bolso?
How much is this bag?

– ¿Cuánto valen estos zapatos?
How much are these shoes?

2. We use it to express agreement. Vale = Ok.

– ¿Te apetece ir al cine? – ¡Vale!
-Do you feel like going to the cinema? -Ok!

– Vienes con nosotros, ¿vale?
– You come with us, alright?

3.  It appears in the construction “valer la pena” with the meaning of ‘to be worth‘.

No vale la pena ir tan lejos para estar sólo un fin de semana.
– It’s not worth going that far to stay only a weekend.

– Vale la pena leer este libro.
– This book is worth reading.

4. It’s used to express if something is fit, useful or allowed.

– Estos pantalones no me valen.
– This trousers don’t fit me.

– Esta bolsa vale para guardar la ropa.
– This bag is useful to keep the clothes.

– ¡No vale mirar! 
– Looking is not allowed.

5. It appears in the expression “Ya te vale” in order to reproach or censure a behavior. Ya te vale = shame on you.

– Ayer bebiste demasiado alcohol y fuiste grosero con mis padres. Ya te vale.
– Yesterday you drank too much alcohol and you were rude with my parents. Shame on you.

Pedir o Preguntar: solving a confusing verb pair (II) 1


As we saw in a previous post, there exist few confusing verbs in Spanish. In this post I will take the doubts out of “pedir” and “preguntar”.

Both verbs express the idea “to ask” reason why they are often mixed up by the Spanish learners. The choice of one verb or the other depends upon the context in which is used. They aren’t interchangeable.

However, the rules that tells us which one to use are quite clear. Have a look at them:

  • Pedir means ‘to ask for’, yes, but it has the nuance of requesting an object, service or favor.

– Me ha pedido una hoja de papel porque ha olvidado el cuaderno.
– He asked me for a paper sheet because he forgot the notebook.

En el restaurante (In the restaurant)
– Vamos a pedir un entrante para compartir y un segundo plato cada uno. No tenemos mucha hambre.
– We are going to ask for a starter to share and a main course each. We are not very hungry.

  • Preguntar also means ‘to ask’ but in the sense of asking a question or request some information.

– Te estoy preguntado qué hora es. ¿Puedes contestarme?
– I am asking you what time it is. Can you answer me?

–  Mis suegros me preguntaron sobre mi embarazo.
– My in-laws asked me about my pregnancy.