Christmas in Barcelona
The best markets, traditions and parties during nadal
By Duncan Rhodes
Bon nadal, as we say in Catalonia! Welcome to our guide on celebrating the festive season in Barcelona. Below you’ll find everything you need to know about the Xmas markets, weird local traditions like the Caganer, as well as some cool things to do this time of year…
If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas click the ‘back’ button now. Aside from the odd freak snowstorm, pretty flakes falling from the sky are not Barcelona’s forte. For that you’re better off packing your bags for Central or Eastern Europe, where spicy sausages and mulled wine (hopefully) stave off the frostbite.
Maybe, however, you don’t feel the compulsive need to shiver your way through the festive season, and would be quite happy to enjoy all the celebrations without the ice-induced tremulations? In which case book your tickets to BCN right now!
The Catalan capital offers much more Christmas romance than many would imagine, and blue skies to boot…
The Catalan capital offers much more Christmas romance than many would imagine, and blue skies to boot, and whether you’re more moved by seasonal carols and nativity cribs in the city’s awe-inspiring churches, applauding the brave as they dip into Port Vell harbour during the annual Christmas Day swim, or sniggering at the cheeky Caganer figure on sale in celebrity form in many of the festive markets, then you’ll find plenty of things to see and experience at this time of year in Barcelona.
Of course there’s the fantastic decorations as well, which include towering fir trees at in Plaça de Sant Jaume and Portal de l’Angel and spectacular lights on nearly every main street… although the best are usually reserved for La Rambla.
We’ve got info on all of the above, on this very page, plus a look at the best parties thrown by local bars, clubs and restaurants. (NB: we’ve got a separate article for New Year’s Eve events!).
Broadly speaking Catalonia observes many of the same traditions and beliefs as other Catholic countries like France, Italy and Poland. Christmas Eve is considered as important, if not more important than Christmas Day, and a lavish dinner is eaten with the family, before going out to visit friends, neighbours and extended family, often bringing gifts and singing carols. However there are some traditions which are uniquely Catalan are well deserving a mention here:
Tio de Nadal
The Tio de Nadal (Christmas log in Catalan) or more commonly the Caga Tió (sh*tting log!) is just one of the region’s scatalogical oddities which is destined to amuse visitors for as long as the tradition survives. According to custom, a hollow log (usually about a foot long) is painted with a smiley face and put in the family home on the 8th December.
The children of the family are then tasked with feeding the Tio a little bit of food and drink every day in the build up to Christmas. Then, finally either on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, the children beat the log with sticks and sing the following song:
Caga tió, caga torró, avellanes i mató, si no cagues bé et daré un cop de bastó. Caga tió
Which roughly translates to:
Sh*t log, sh*t nougats, hazelnuts and mató cheese, if you don’t sh*t well, I’ll hit you with a stick. Sh*t, log.
After the kids have given this verse a gleeful rendition, and smacked the poor branch good and proper, they should discover that some presents have magically appeared from the hollow of the log! In many ways its the Catalan equivalent of Santa filling good childrens’ stockings. Travellers will find a giant Tio de Nadal in Plaça Nova just by the main Santa Llucia market (more info below!).
Not content with one x-rated, x-crement themed, X-mas tradition, the Catalans only went and invented a second. The Caganer is a cheeky chap to say the least, because in the middle of the holy nativity scene he sees fit to drop his peasant’s breeches and relieve his bowels in the presence of the newborn Jesus and the Virgin Mother.
This however is not considered profane in Catalonia, rather it recalls pagan rituals of fertilising the soil and is considered good luck! Such is his cult status in Catalonia that you will find little statuettes of this peasant, usually squatting over his steaming new oeuvre d’art, on sale at all the Christmas markets. In fact you’ll also find celebrity versions of him for sale, in the likeness of Messi, Barack Obama, Bart Simpson, Donald Trump… you name it!
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There are various markets, aka firas, set up around BCN at this time of year… let’s start with the biggest:
Fira de Santa Llúcia
Barcelona’s main Christmas fair has been going for over 225 years: you’ll find it camped underneath the city’s imposing Gothic Cathedral. The majority of stalls are given over to selling festive decorations, nativity-scene figures (including the infamous aforementioned Caganer in all his usual and celebrity guides!), handmade crafts, traditional zambombas (friction drums) and seasonal trees and shrubs. The Santa Llúcia market opens at the end of November / start of December, and finishes on the 23rd December, opening hours 10:30 to 20:30.
Fira de Nadal de la Sagrada Familia
Another traditional Christmas market, this time in front of Gaudi’s otherworldly Sagrada Familia church. This Fira de Nadal boasts around 120 stalls and occasional appearances from Father Christmas to collect letters from children and hand out sweets and balloons. Runs until the 24th December and open daily from 10.00 to 22.00.
Food Artisans Market
A nice surprise that pops up in Plaça Santa Maria del Pi (by the church of the same name), in the Gothic District, this mini-market has around twenty stalls selling artisanal treats such as Catalan honey, chocolates, cheeses, wines and cakes. A good one for non-kitsch stocking fillers.
Special Events & Activities
Naturally being Chrimbo, there’s going be a few special events taking place… here are a few of our favourites. We also heard that (not verified by us personally!) the Font Magica (aka Magic Fountain) spews forth its magic light and water show to the sound of Christmas carols…
Harbour Swim (25th December)
Taking place at noon on Christmas Day itself, this testicle-shrinking sports event is a 200m dash across the Barcelona harbour for the brave. Even the Mediterranean is freezing this time of year! The Copa Nadal (“Christmas Cup”) has been organised every year since 1907 by the Swimming Club of Barcelona, when Edwald Poescheke won with a time of 3’17 “02. Head to the Christopher Colombus statue before noon if you want to spectate!
Three Kings Parade (5th January)
Whilst Caga Tio defecates a few pressies here and there on Xmas itself, the main present giving in Catalonia and Spain takes place when the Wise Men arrive to deliver their gifts to the Son of God, during Epiphany (6th January). The day before (ie. the 5th Jan!), in what is one of Barcelona’s most spectacular annual events, the Three Magi cruise into Port Vell by galleon, collect the letters of children, and then embark on a parade of peerless pomp on well-dressed floats around town, dishing out sweets here, there and everywhere. The action starts at around 4pm when the ship bearing the Three Kings floats into port.
Christmas Sailing (every day of the season)
One surprise activity that you can do throughout December, even on the 25th itself, is a spot of sailing with the company Sailing Experience Barcelona. The weather is often surprisingly fine this time of year and whilst we wouldn’t advocate partaking the aforementioned Harbour Swim, taking a yacht out for a spin is another matter. You can get a 10% discount on any of their activities when you use the voucher code BARCELONALIFE2019, and their most affordable sail is only €39 per person (in fact it is only €35.10 with our discount!). You use the voucher code towards the end of the booking process, when you’re entering your payment details.
Ice Bar (throughout December)
If you do want a temporary blast of frost, Barcelona’s very own Ice Bar has a sub-zero chamber full of amazing frozen sculptures. Even the glasses are made of ice! The bar is right by the beach, and remains open throughout the Christmas season. Read more and get your tickets here.
Flamenco Shows (every night)
Catching a flamenco concert is one of the most popular things to do for travellers over the winter season, and a great way to pass those long December nights. We’ve written an extensive article on the best places to catch a show in Barcelona. Arguably the best tablao is El Palacio de Flamenco, and you can read our review and how to get tickets here. Whilst this popular Flamenco & Tapas evening is only €35 all included.
Even More Activities…
You’ll find many more Xmas events and activities and info on the city’s official website, whilst we have also recently written about our favourite things do do in December, Christmassy or otherwise, so do check that out.
Christmas Meals & Parties 2018
So you’ve brought your Trump-faced Caganer at the markets, enjoyed the lights on Portal de l’Angel, and watched the Christmas harbour swim… now where can you get a traditional Christmas lunch?
Flaherty’s Irish Pub (25th Dec)
If you simply can’t stomach the thought of Christmas without a traditional turkey lunch, in convivial company and a homely surrounds, then look no further than Flaherty’s. The heart of Barcelona’s international scene, this is where expats, tourists and locals come together to enjoy a beer or three! Their four course Xmas meal includes stuffed roasted turkey breast and ham with cranberry sauce (or a vegetarian alternative!), a selection of starters, a free drink and Christmas pudding. At €35 per head even Ebeneezer Scrooge wouldn’t flinch at forking out. Spaces do sell out so you need to reserve: just email: email@example.com with your group size and any further questions. There are two seatings, one at 1pm and one at 4m.
If you can’t make it on the 25th, but still need your turkey, don’t worry they offer an “on-demand” Christmas menu, available any day from 1st December onwards.
CocoVail Beer Hall (18th Dec)
If you’re here in the build up to the big day, and want to get into the spirit, then one of the city’s best craft beer bars will be throwing their Christmas Party on the 18th December. Door open at 10:30 pm until 3 am, and you can enjoy some €2 shots and €4 mixers, as well as their usual range of Catalan brews.
Don’t forget you’ll find some of the best places to eat in the city in our restaurants section, along with their contact details, so you can see what else is cooking during Navidad. Whilst plenty of bars will be open as usual and in festive spirit. Find some of the best in town right here.
Private Christmas Parties
If you need to book your own private Xmas party, either for the office or for friends then you could get in contact with Marmalade, a slick bar restaurant in Raval, or Slow Cocktail Bar, a stylish cocktail bar with two upstairs rooms, two great venues that are experienced in throwing private functions. Or else click on the sections on the left of this page to search through more pubs, bars and restaurant options.
Or you could get in contact with us at firstname.lastname@example.org! We’ve found a great venue in the centre of town (just off Las Ramblas), that can accommodate large groups for a delicious three-course Christmas dinner with all of the trimmings!
For just €45 per person you get:
Starter – Soup, meatballs or melon and ham
Main Course – Turkey roast with roast potatoes, stuffing, seasonal vegetables, cranberry sauce and gravy. (We can also offer steak or lasagne)
Dessert – Chocolate brownie or ice cream
Decorated private room
And to make the night extra special we can also offer a Christmas pub quiz (with a prize for the winners!), a private DJ and VIP nightclub entry in Port Olimpic for you and all your company (if you want to keep the party swinging after dinner).
So no bah humbugging… get your work colleagues and friends together along with some mistletoe, and see off the year with a bang!