Christmas is a very important celebration in all Spanish-speaking countries. In this lesson, we will review some of the essential Christmas vocabulary in Spanish.
One of the most endearing traditions for Christmas in the Hispanic world is the installation of nativity scenes at home or in public places. They are called belenes or nacimientos:
Lo más tradicional
The most traditional [thing]
además del turrón, el champán y los Reyes Magos,
besides nougat candy, champagne and the Three Wise Men,
es montar el belén en casa.
is to put up a Nativity scene at home.
Captions 2-4, Europa Abierta - Joaquín Pérez - Escultor de belenesPlay Caption
Another important tradition are villancicos which are the Spanish equivalent of Christmas carols. Lida and Cleer sing for us one of the most popular villancicos, El burrito de Belén (The Little Donkey from Bethlehem) also known as "El burrito sabanero" (The Little Donkey from the Savannah):
Con mi burrito sabanero voy camino de Belén
With my little savanna donkey I'm heading to Bethlehem
Caption 42, Lida y Cleer - BuñuelosPlay Caption
You may want to learn a few villancicos if you happen to be in a Spanish speaking country around Christmas. Just in case you get invited to a Posada. The word posada means "lodging" or "accommodation." traditionally, posadas are neighborhood celebrations held during the nine days preceding Christmas. They have a religious nature and involve participating in a communal re-enactment of the arrival of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem who, according to legend, had to go door-by-door pidiendo posada (asking for a place to stay). These celebrations also involve praying, sharing food, and breaking a piñata in the shape of a Christmas star. By extension, the word posada also means "Christmas party" in many Latin American countries. For example, you can get invited to la posada de la oficina (the office Christmas party) or la posada del club de ajedrez (the chess club Christmas party).
Another important word for the Holidays is the word aguinaldo ("thirteen salary" or "Christmas bonus"):
¿Y... le han dado todos sus reglamentos de vacaciones,
And... have they given you all your statutory vacations,
aguinaldo, todo eso?
annual complementary salary, all that?
Caption 21, Doña Coco - La Vida De Una CocineraPlay Caption
Día de Reyes or día de los Reyes Magos (day of the three Wise Men) is another popular Christmas celebration in many Spanish-speaking countries. Sometimes people just call it Reyes (Kings). In Mexico this day marks the end of the so-called Guadalupe-Reyes marathon of winter festivities.
Y en los Reyes, va a venir aquí con tus niños.
And at Epiphany, she is going to come here with your children.
Caption 49, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesaPlay Caption
Finally, there's an important distinction to make. The Spanish word for Christmas is Navidad, while the equivalent of Christmas eve is called Nochebuena (Literally, "the Good Night").
Ha pasado otra Nochebuena solo, encerrado. -No, no.
You have spent another Christmas Eve alone, locked inside. -No, no.
Captions 23-24, Muñeca Brava - 30 RevelacionesPlay Caption
Nochebuena is also one of the names given to the poinsettias flower, which is indigenous to Mexico and it's widely used in Christmas floral displays all around the world.
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The Spanish verb dar means "to give." However, Spanish uses this verb in many more ways than the English verb "to give." A basic dictionary reports more than forty different uses for it. We already have a lesson exploring some of them. But since the list is long, let's explore another use of the verb dar by analyzing examples found in our catalog of authentic Spanish videos.
Let's focus on the expression estar dando, which literally means "to be giving" as in El papá le está dando dinero a su hijo (the father is giving money to his son). Since Spanish uses dar in many more ways than English uses "to give," you will find that estar dando is used in a much broader sense too. For example:
...porque le está dando la luz al monumento.
...because it is lighting the monument.
Caption 26, Club de las ideas - De profesiónPlay Caption
Let's analyze this construction for a moment. It uses dando (giving), which is the gerundio of the verb dar, followed by the noun luz (light) to express a continuous action. It's not that Spanish lacks more orthodox options to express continuous actions. In Spanish, you can also directly use the gerundio of the verb iluminar (to light): porque está iluminando al monumento (because it is lighting the monument). This is how English usually expresses these continuous actions anyway, by using verbs with the -ing ending, like "lighting." The Spanish use of dando is just an alternative, one that not all verbs would accept. In fact, if you look closely at the last examples in the following list, you'll notice that the alternative using "giving" also exists in English, with certain verbs.
Lucía está dando gritos - Lucía está gritando / Lucia is shouting
Estás brincando - Estás dando brincos / You are jumping
Estamos informando - Estamos dando información / We're informing - We're giving information
Estoy coloreando - Estoy dando color / I'm coloring - I'm giving color
Estoy amando - Estoy dando amor / I'm loving - I'm giving love
Le estamos dando molestias - Le estamos molestando / We are bothering you - We are giving you trouble
Note that you can't always do these substitutions with all verbs. The example with the verb comer (to eat) is very illustrative: Elvira está comiendo (Elvira is eating) and Elvira está dando comida (Elvira is giving food) don't mean the same thing. But you can get away with it if you use the verb alimentar (to feed): Elvira está alimentando and Elvira está dando alimento mean exactly the same: "Elvira is feeding."
Here are more examples:
Me tiene dando vueltas como torbellino.
You have me spinning like a whirlwind.
Caption 61, Calle 13 - Cumbia de los AburridosPlay Caption
Ahí le vamos dando la forma, despacio.
There we go about shaping it, slowly. [There we go about giving it shape, slowly]
Caption 26, Recetas de cocina - Arepas colombianasPlay Caption
Here is another example with a slightly different construction but the same principle:
Otras más polémicas son las de la Virgen María dando el pecho en el portal de Belén.
Other more controversial ones are those of the Virgin Mary breastfeeding in the Nativity scene.Play Caption
By the way, in Spanish, there is also a verb for breast-feeding, it's amamantar. So it's also correct to say la Virgen María amamantando en el portal de Belén (the Virgin Mary breast-feeding in Bethlehem's stable).