Christmas in Barcelona: you can't imagine all the surprises there are in store
Days of love, peace and relaxation when the family gets together… the Christmas spirit may be universal, but we can't say the same for its traditions. In Catalonia and Barcelona you're sure to be amazed at all our different and unique rituals and customs. The festive celebrations really get underway with the switch-on of the Christmas lights. The city's streets and landmark spots like the Plaça de la Mercè; the old town, Ciutat Vella; the Fort Pienc neighbourhood in the Eixample; the main street, Carrer Major, in Nou Barris; the Plaça Orfila in St. Andreu and the Plaça de Comas in Les Corts will be a sea of lights, creating a magical atmosphere that invites you to wander and lose yourself.
The Fira de Santa Llúcia: a fair dating from 1786!
On 13th December, we celebrate the day of Santa Llúcia (Saint Lucy), the patron saint of sight (hence the expression "May Santa Llúcia protect your sight"). A few weeks before, on 25th November, the market bearing her name begins around the cathedral.
What will you find? Well, not many Santa Clauses, that's for sure. But you will find everything you'll need for the traditional Christmas crib which is the centrepiece of our homes over the festive season: moss, figurines, shepherds, little houses, trees and caganers… You'll also find decorations for the tree, lucky mistletoe and tió logs with smiley faces sporting a typical Catalan cap, the barretina. On Christmas Day, or Christmas Eve, the children make the tió "poop" presents, sweets and nougat by beating him with a stick. Unusual? Surprising? Delightful? Perhaps, but great fun too.
Pessebres and caganers
Long before Catalonia adopted the custom of decorating the tree, the Christmas tradition consisted of building a miniature version of the Nativity scene, the pessebre, showing Jesus in the manger, the adoration of the shepherds and the Three Kings. You can also see these scenes in shop windows, churches and all over the city. A spectacular Christmas crib takes pride of place every year in the Plaça de Sant Jaume. No crib would be complete without the curious figure of the caganer, a crouching figure hidden away in a corner of the crib who is answering a call of nature. Nowadays, you'll find thousands of models, some of them depicting celebrities, which make the caganer the star of the pessebre.
Sagrada Família Christmas Fair
Right in front of Gaudí's church, you'll find a Christmas fair just like Santa Llúcia but on a smaller scale. You'll also find all kinds of decorations and everything you'll need to create your own Nativity scene, as well as lots of Christmas-themed activities and things for kids to do, like delivering a letter to the Kings' royal pages, paper lantern workshops and open-air Caga-tions involving a gigantic version of the present-pooping log. You'll be able to enjoy Barcelona's most famous church imbued with the Christmas spirit!
Christmas markets outside the city
A visit to one of the markets being held near Barcelona comes highly recommended. Below you’ll find a list of some of the most original ones.
Sant Cugat Christmas Market
Inspired by the Berlin Christmas markets, local shops showcase their products in wooden huts. Throughout December, there are marquees selling different products.
Mataró Christmas Fair
In the heart of the Maresme, this fair has everything you’ll need to decorate your tree, Nativity scene, table and home.
Sant Celoni Christmas Fair
This pretty town on the slopes of Mount Montseny holds a fair with more than 140 stalls. You can also enjoy lots of musical events, activities for kids, workshops and much more.
Espinelves Christmas Tree Fair
This is one of the region’s most unique markets. In December, the fairy-tale village of Espinelves welcomes hundreds of people from all over Catalonia who come to buy their Christmas trees.
Responsible consumption fair.
And because Christmas and sustainability are not mutually exclusive, the Plaça Catalunya will be holding its Responsible Consumption Fair. In December and January you'll be able to buy sustainable products, find out about the projects and companies behind them, and discover the organisations working towards a local economy that can transform society.
Els Pastorets: our traditional home-grown Nativity play
There aren't many locals who haven't performed in, or been to see a performance of Els Pastorets (The Little Shepherds). This traditional Nativity play tells of the birth of Jesus set against the backdrop of the battle between angels and demons who depict good and evil. The story dates back to medieval times but became particularly popular in the late 17th century. Els Pastorets are performed in many venues around the city, including community centres, churches and theatres.You can also see these scenes in shop windows, churches, restaurants and bars, and all over the city.
The Nativity in the Plaça Sant Jaume
This is the city's best-known Nativity scene. Resembling a large art installation, it changes every year. You can visit from late November until early January.
The Museu Frederic Marès Nativity
This is the classic Nativity scene inspired by the Catalan landscape and featuring real plants and trees. You can visit from November to February.
Pedralbes Monastery Nativity
This wonderfully detailed classic Nativity scene is on display from mid-December until February. On the Saturday before Christmas the monastery also holds family activities.
Living Nativity at the Poble Espanyol
The figures and animals in this Nativity scene are real! The Poble Espanyol takes you on a journey back to the time of Jesus. No Nativity scene would be complete without the curious, crouching figure of the "caganer", a shepherd defecating in the open air, tucked away in a corner of the Nativity scene. Nowadays, you can find “caganers” in thousands of guises, some of them with the faces of celebrities and politicians, making them the true stars of the Nativity.
28th December: the Sants Innocents
In Catalonia, 28th December is a day for high-spirited fun. People play practical jokes and pranks on one another: even the newspapers get in on the act by publishing fake news stories! There is another tradition (although much less widespread nowadays) consisting of sticking a cut-out newspaper figure, known as a llufa, on people's backs without them realising. So make sure you watch your back!
The Missa del Gall and the Cant de la Sibil·la
At midnight on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day, Catholics attend midnight mass, which is known as the Missa del Gall and held in all the city's churches. On Christmas Eve you can see a very special musical celebration, the Cant de la Sibil·la (Song of Sybil), a Gregorian chant dating from medieval times performed a cappella by a boy or woman dressed as a prophetess, or Sybil. It is very popular in Barcelona and you'll be able to hear it after midnight mass in the cathedral, the basilica of Santa Maria del Mar and the Bonanova church.
And to eat… escudella i carn d'olla and other delights
Escudella i carn d'olla is a traditional Christmas dish eaten on Christmas Day. This hearty winter fare consists of two courses, escudella or sopa de galets (a broth with giant pasta shells) followed by carn d'olla (the meat – sausage and meat loaf - and vegetables cooked in the broth). No Christmas table would be complete without cava and traditional nougat, torró, and tubular wafers, neules. It's also traditional to eat cannelloni on 26th December (Saint Stephen's Day), which are often made from the left-overs from the escudella i carn d'olla. Many restaurants serve these dishes on their menus on the days leading up to Christmas, so don't miss out on the opportunity to try them. They're truly delicious. The top of the Columbus Monument is another great place to sample two typical festive staples – a glass of cava and "turrón" nougat – while you enjoy spectacular views of the city below. And if you want to take some special Christmas treats home with you, like “turrón” and the tubular wafers known as “neules”, we recommend you visit Torrons Vicenç, the patisserie La Colmena, the Mauri Patisseries and Casa Gispert
The chimes of midnight on New Year's Eve.
If you're in Barcelona at New Year you can't miss out on our New Year's Eve celebrations with the traditional grapes. You have to eat twelve, one for each stroke of midnight. You can bring in the New Year with your family or at the open-air party on the Avinguda María Reina Cristina. A Mediterranean New Year's Eve filled with music, lights, water and fireworks. Keep your eyes peeled on the last day of the year and you might spot the imaginary “Home dels Nassos” (Man with the Noses). He has as many noses as there are days of the year and the kids go crazy trying to find him.
The Kings of the Orient: a magical celebration
The most eagerly awaited day (or rather, night) for all the boys and girls is Twelfth Night when the Kings of the Orient come to town. The city looks dazzling on the evening of 5th January when it welcomes their majesties who parade through the streets accompanied by lavishly decorated floats with musical parades, street performers, jugglers… The children who haven't had time to deliver their letters still have time to do so. On the days leading up to 5th, you'll find the Kings' pages at different places around the city who will take the letters and hand them to the Kings.
On 5th January the shops and shopping centres stay open until late so the Kings can buy all the presents they'll need. Along the Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, between Carrer Muntaner and Carrer Calàbria, there is a night-time market, the Fira de Reis, where their majesties can find last-minute presents. The Epiphany Fair, the Fira de Reis, is the place where the Three Kings find their last-minute gifts, after visiting the Barcelona Original Shop, the place where you’ll find the perfect gift inspired by the city. January 6th is a holiday so young and old alike can enjoy a magical day and another sweet tradition: the tortell de Reis, a ring-shaped cake filled with marzipan topped with candied fruit. There are two surprises inside, a tiny figurine of a king and a broad bean. The person who finds the figurine gets to wear the crown. But the person who finds the bean… pays for the cake! Although, if you are one of the latter, believe us, it will have been well worth it.
Activities for all tastes and age groups
Christmas in Barcelona is a unique opportunity to soak up the culture and feel like a local. The Plaça de Catalunya holds all kinds of family activities with fantasy characters who will make the build-up to Christmas really exciting. You’ll also find sporting and leisure activities, workshops, dance performances, as well as two of the Three Kings’ royal pages who will collect the letters from the local children. And if the little ones want to immerse themselves further in the magical world of the Three Kings, they should visit the Three Kings’ Factory and toy warehouse in the former Coats textile mill. Music at Christmas in Barcelona means the sounds of Strauss, Handel and choral singing at the Palau de la Música Catalana, and Albert Guinovart at the Gran Teatre del Liceu, among many other musical delights.
And Christmas pays tribute to sport with the popular fun run, the “Cursa dels Nassos”, which is held on the last day of the year. The run covers a 10km route throughout the city and this year will feature amazing fire shows. See Barcelona's Christmas listings to find out what's on.
Surprising, don't you think? Now you can spend Christmas like a local. Merry Christmas or, as we say in Catalonia, Bones Festes!
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