It’s no secret that the Spanish love to celebrate, and Christmas is no exception. Thinking of visiting the Catalan capital over the festive period and would like to know a bit more about what to expect? Then look no further. We have all you need to know about Christmas in the city.
Important dates over the Christmas period
6 December – Constitution Day (bank holiday)
8 December – Day of the Immaculate Conception (bank holiday)
25 December – Christmas Day (bank holiday)
26 December – Boxing Day (bank holiday in Catalonia)
1 January – New Year’s Day (bank holiday)
5 January – Parade of the Three Kings
6 January – Three Wise Kings’ Day (bank holiday)
Markets are a real Christmas highlight in a lot of European cities, and you”ll find several dotted across Barcelona during the festive period. By far the largest and most popular is the Fira de Santa Llúcia, located in front of Barcelona Cathedral in Plaça de la Seu. It’s been going since 1786 and with lots of handmade decorations and gift ideas in a stunning setting, it’s the perfect place to get into the festive spirit. This year, the fair begins on 30 November and ends on 23 December.
Barcelona is a fantastic shopping destination, and for Christmas shopping it really does have it all. From street markets to independent boutiques and national institutions like Zara and Mango, there are plenty of options. Plus there are extra shopping days during December during the bank holidays on the 6th and 8th, as well as on Sunday 9th, 16th and 23rd to give you enough time to pick up all your Christmas presents. Two of the most popular shopping streets are Passeig de Gràcia and Portal de l’Angel, but there are so many side streets full of unique things to give as gifts so make sure you explore those too.
For the third year now, Plaça Catalunya is playing host to Europe’s largest open-air ice rink. Open from the end of November until the beginning of January, the price per hour is around 8 euros and it’s a great way to get into the Christmas spirit. This isn’t the only ice rink in the city – there are also ones in Gràcia and Passeig de Sant Joan, as well as an indoor one in the Pedralbes shopping centre.
The sparkly street lights in Barcelona certainly spread Christmas cheer throughout the city. They can be seen on over 300 streets around the city, with El Corte Inglés store on Plaça Catalunya putting on its own equally impressive twinkly display. Each district of the city also has its own Christmas tree, the most famous being the 12-metre one on Plaça Catalunya, covered in little lights and decorations.
Nativity scenes are huge in Barcelona and people spend a lot of time and money recreating this famous festive stalwart. The intricate nativity scenes displayed around the city are not to be missed, the most popular being in Plaça Sant Jaume, commissioned by a different artist each year. It’s life-sized and people queue at its unveiling just to take a picture of it! The unusual caganer is included in the scene, although not without its controversy. In 2005, the Council banned it, as its depiction of public defecation “set a bad example”. However, many locals were outraged by this killjoy attitude and demanded it be reinstalled.
Traditional things to buy in markets
Included in Catalan nativity scenes, this cheeky character can also be found in stalls throughout the region during December. Traditionally, the caganer is a gnome-like figure wearing the traditional Catalan barretina or red beret and with his trousers down, his backside bare, defecating! It’s a very popular tradition in Catalonia and it’s said to be a symbol of good luck for the New Year. In recent years, the Catalan figure has been substituted for famous faces such as Barack Obama, Lewis Hamilton and Homer Simpson.
Caga Tío (‘shitting log’)
Quintessentially Catalan and a big hit with kids, the Caga Tío can be found in homes all over the region. It’s a small log with a face painted on one end and wearing the typical Catalan red hat. From 8 December until Christmas Eve, children feed it sweets and take care of it by covering it in a blanket. Finally, on the 24 December, children sing the Caga Tío song and hit the log with sticks to be able to enjoy the delicacies inside. Sometimes, the log will then be used as fuel to warm the house, ‘repaying’ the warmth it has received there.
Be sure to try some Spanish turrón during your December visit – a sweet that’s a firm favourite here at Christmas. Traditional turrón is made from nougat with almonds, hazelnuts and honey, although today hundreds of flavours are available. Polvorones are also a popular festive treat made from a sweet, almond paste. They’re similar to shortbread, although a lot heavier and more crumbly.
Three Kings’ Day
Although Christmas on 25 December is celebrated, it’s firmly in the shadow of 6 January – the day that the Spanish consider the most important in the festive calendar. This is the day that people typically exchange gifts and enjoy large feasts. The 5th of January is the Night of the Three Kings, the Cavalcada de Reis in Catalan, when you can catch the spectacular Three Kings’ Parade that winds its way through the main thoroughfares of Barcelona. It’s a massive display of fireworks and elaborately decorated floats, with children throwing hard-boiled sweets at the crowds who turn up to watch. Take our word for it – you don’t want to miss this.
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