Swapping Christmas Eve trudging around in the cold and wet running up a credit bill the size of a small country’s national debt, for lying on a sun soaked Tenerife beach sipping a MaiTai cocktail, can be a very attractive proposition. Cheap flights and the right hotel deal can often add up to no more than you’d spend in food and heating if you stayed at home and there is no doubt that leaving all the stress behind in favour of rest and relaxation can be a sanity saver. But when it comes to traditions, you need to be prepared for some subtle differences to avoid returning home with a sun tan and the feeling that somehow, you missed out on Christmas and New Year altogether.
Compared to the UK’s timetable, Papa Noel operates a very mañana approach to his delivery schedule and doesn’t put in an appearance until the 6th January which is in keeping with the arrival of the gift-laden Three Kings on the Feast of the Epiphany. That means the big shopping centres are relatively quiet in the run up to 25th December and don’t peak until well into the New Year, leaving late Christmas shopping for visitors a very leisurely and civilised affair.
The down side is that the January sales don’t tend to start until the 7th January; long after you’ve returned home to a cold, dark, wet Britain to discover that all the best bargains have been bagged while you were still wriggling your toes in the sand.
On Tenerife the main Christmas meal is eaten on Christmas Eve and is very much a family affair. Hotel, bar and restaurant staff will all want to be at home for the event which means that your hotel dinner is likely to be scheduled earlier for that evening and you won’t be encouraged to linger over coffee.
If you’re planning a special Christmas Eve meal out, it’s essential to check with the restaurant what their opening hours are going to be and to book. Many restaurants won’t open at all or will close early, particularly away from the busy resorts of the south coast. Many local bars will also either close early or not open at all so if you want to party like it’s, well…Christmas Eve, head to a bar that’s very firmly aimed at the Brits.
After the family meal, Tinerfeños will usually attend midnight mass, after which the younger members will head off to their favourite clubs which open at around 1am and continue until it’s time to put the turkey in the oven. Cast your UK drinking hours aside and don’t peak before midnight to ensure you’ve got the staying power to join them.
When it comes to that all important Christmas Day lunch, you can still get your turkey and stuffing but you’ll be well advised to book in advance. Tables at one of the restaurants offering a traditional roast dinner fill up fast so when you see a menu board that takes your fancy, don’t dither.
Of course, not everyone wants to tuck into turkey and gravy when the sun’s beating down, and doing something completely different is part of the fun of Christmas abroad. With most restaurants in resorts choosing to stay open, you can always pull a cracker over paella instead.
The day after Christmas isn’t a public holiday on Tenerife so shops, bars and restaurants will all operate their normal hours.
Beléns are wonderfully detailed Middle Eastern scenes of village life in biblical times. These spring up in towns in the weeks before Christmas and the best are nearly the size of a small village themselves. Look out for the man caught short in each belén; he's always there.
This is the night to dress to the nines and go for it.
In the capital city of Santa Cruz and in the northern resort of Puerto de la Cruz, all night parties are held in the main plazas with live bands, spectacular firework displays and mass salsa dancing and all for free. Fringe streets usually host DJs belting out house, trance, dance and Euro-trance for the younger crowd and everybody is dressed to impress. If you’re staying on the south coast, head to Los Cristianos where a live band plays the plaza and at midnight fireworks fill the night sky.
Wherever you are, it’s traditional to eat a grape for every stroke of midnight to ensure good luck for the coming year. But be warned; the grapes you buy are not usually seedless so unless you want to court a year’s bad luck, beginning with a serious case of choking, de-seed them yourself before the big night. It’s also said to be good luck to wear red underwear, so a good excuse to splash out, or have someone splash out for you on a new set for the big night.
Restaurants offer a special menu and prices can range from good value to extortionate so shop around. Tables will usually be provided with grapes and a bottle of cava or cider for the midnight hour but to really get the feel for this special night, leave the restaurant, take your cava and your grapes to the plaza or harbour for the midnight fireworks and join the party under the stars.