Like many other countries, Spain used to base itself around mean solar time – calculated based on the angle of the sun in the sky – until it made the change to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) on December 31st 1900. From then onwards time was standardised in all parts of Spain with the exception of the Canary Islands which retained solar time until 1922. Before then, the time could be different from one corner of Spain to the other, based on their relative locations.
The country also adopted Daylight Saving Time in 1918, although it was not observed every year. It even became a political issue during the Spanish Civil War when, depending on who controlled the territory, clocks were changed on different dates.
Yet the reliance on GMT persevered for 4o years, meaning Spain functioned on the same time as places like the United Kingdom, Portugal and Morocco. However, just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War and during the last year of the Spanish Civil War, the nationalist Falangist forces attempted to move away from GMT to align themselves with Nazi Germany.
Though the move was ultimately blocked and GMT re-established in 1939, it didn’t take long for Franco’s government to soon attempt the move once again – this time more successfully.
On March 16th 1940, the clocks jumped from 23:00h to 00:00h to display the same time as Nazi Germany and other Nazi-occupied countries such as France and the Netherlands. This was an entirely politically motivated move to show support to the fascist government of Germany and showed no consideration for the natural cycle of the sun in Spain. According to the original 24-hour division of the world, Spain’s latitudinal position meant that GMT was the most natural time-zone for it to follow.
Many in Spain believed that the clocks would eventually return to GMT when the war was over, yet this never happened. However, while the time may have changed, the pace at which Spaniards went about their daily life did not. As a result, if Spaniards once had their lunch at 1pm they continued to eat at the same time of day, though the clock now said 2pm.
As a result, many believe that today Spain is living in the wrong time zone and that this historic move in 1940 is behind what is considered to be Spain’s relatively late schedule. Lunch breaks typically run from 2pm to 4pm while dinner is often not before 9pm or 10pm.
Some claim that living on the same time zone as Germany leaves Spain ‘out of sync’, possibly even leading to unhealthy lifestyles with late nights being the norm even for children.
Perhaps all this is about to change, as in 2016 the Prime Minister of Spain announced plans to return Spain to GMT. Aside from restoring the country to its original time zone, this move may help Spain do business with other European countries by aligning its working hours more closely with those of its neighbours.