Everywhere it is celebrated, Christmas brings along a magic and contagious atmosphere, religious as well as pagan rituals, lots of presents and sweets. If you are planning to travel for Christmas, Barcelona is a worthwhile destination. Besides the attractions you can discover all year round, typically Catalonian Christmas traditions can be discovered in the region's capital.
When does the Christmas spirit start floating in the air?
The date of December 8th, when the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrate is considered in Spain the start of the holidays' season. This is when the locals start putting up the Christmas decorations in the streets as well as in their homes.
Christmas markets in Barcelona
Open air markets are organized annually in Barcelona. The best known of all, Fira de Santa Llucia, is installed right in the heart of the city, in Plaza de la Seu. Every year, since 1786, about 300 hundreds of stalls surround Barcelona's Cathedral displaying all sorts of products from fir trees and mistletoe bouquets, to toys, souvenirs, musical instruments and the typically Catalan Christmas characters. Opening on November 27th, Fira de Santa Llucia makes Barcelona's Gothic Quarter become even more animated than it usually is. If you are in Barcelona during the month of December, Fira de Santa Llucia is certainly worth a visit. You can get there by metro (L1 - Catalunya or Urquinaona stations, L3 - Liceu or Catalunya stations, L4 - Jaume I station) or by bus (lines 17, 19, 40, 45 and 120).
Feira de Reyes is another very popular Christmas market in Barcelona. It is held annually on Gran Via de les Corts Catalans, between Muntaner and Rocafort streets. Fira de Nadal a la Sagrada Familia spreads its stalls on the gardens surrounding Barcelona's most famous landmark. Besides, other markets that are available all year round like Col.lectiu d'Artesans de l'Alimentació and Mercat Gótic gain a typically Christmas look once the holiday season approaches.
Although Barcelona's Christmas markets are colorful and vivid, they are not significantly different from the ones you find in London or Paris. Probably the most striking Catalonian Christmas tradition refers to a bizarre character called El Caganer. Despite his weird look, this scatological character carries a symbolic meaning whose origin goes back to the 18th century. Pants down (or skirt up in the feminine version) and buttocks in the air, El Caganer a peasant dressed in traditional costume (Catalan belt and beret) who fertilizes the earth with his excrement.
El Caganer - Shutterstock/Natursports
In the Catalan culture, he is the symbol of good luck and prosperity, reminding us that we are all equal. An even more surprising fact is that the Catholic Church fully accepts this bizarre tradition. Spanish children continue to enjoy the Where's-Waldo type of games, hiding him under a bridge or behind a haystack within the Nativity scene. Nowadays, there are thousands of versions and El Cagier often borrows the face of famous people, from politicians to music stars and sports figures.
One of the most important decorations you will see in many locals homes is the nativity scene – a mock-up of the Bethlehem stable where Baby Jesus was born. Families, especially those with kids, build it together as part of the Christmas preparations.
A tradition similar to Yule log, Tio de Nadal (also known as El Tio) originally referred to a hollowed piece of wood filled with candies, nuts and other sweets. Covered by a red blanket reminding the traditionally Catalonian hat (barretina), El Tio accumulates sweets starting December 8th (the date when the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated). A noisy ritual accompanies its emptying on Christmas Eve. Just like with El Caganer, modern times have brought changes to El Tio. Thus, it has been added a smiling face, a nose and even legs.
You can discover these characters while strolling through Barcelona's Christmas markets. You will find them in shops' windows, on the shelves as well as in people's homes.
The Three Kings Parade
Some say that attending the Three Kings Parade in Barcelona is even better than visiting Disneyland. The atmosphere is similar to the big carnivals, with firework shows, dancing parades, loud music and a lot of candies. Starting at Parc de la Ciutadella, Cavalcada de Reis Mags d'Orient, as this event is known among the locals, crosses the center of the city and finishes in the vicinity of the famous Magic Fountain of Montjuic. This procession takes place on January 5th, on the eve of Epiphany Day, marking the end of the holidays' season.