Christmas in Barcelona
The best markets, traditions and parties during nadal
By Duncan Rhodes
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, 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 Placa 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 Placa 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 Caganar 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 chidlren 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.
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…
A relatively new tradition that is a lot of fun is one of the world’s biggest outdoor ice rinks setting up shop in late November on Plaça Catalunya, Barcelona’s central square. Simply turn up, hire a pair of skates and off you go!
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 Meditteranean 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
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.
You’ll find many more Xmas events and activities and info on the city’s official website.
Christmas Meals & Parties 2018
So you’ve brought your Neymar-faced Caganer, enjoyed a skate around the ice rink on Placa Catalunya and watched the Christmas harbour swim… now where can you get a traditional Christmas lunch? Here are some of our favourite places along with what they are offering this Xmas 2018.
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. From 7pm Irish musician Peter Moynahan will be playing live, and of course the crowd will be encouraged to sing along. In fact the very same minstrel will also be playing live on Christmas eve from 7 to 9pm if you can’t make it on the 25th, but fancy some holiday cheer.
Whether you’re staying at Le Meridien hotel (like stars such as Madonna and Bruce Springsteen have before you!), or not, all are welcome to celebrate the festive season in style at the hotel’s renowned restaurant CentOnze. Chef Luis Ramos will serve traditional dishes for Christmas Eve dinner (set menu €69) and lunch on the 25th itself (€49), as well as a fantastic boxing day lunch on the 26th December (€49). For more details, and all their menu options, simply check out their website.
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 do get in contact with Marmalade, a slick bar restaurant in Raval, Belushi’s, a trendy international bar right in the centre of town popular with travellers, who offer three course Christmas meal for just 10 euros a head, or Slow Cocktail Bar, a stylish cocktail bar with two upstairs rooms. Or else click on the sections on the left of this page to search through more pubs, bars and restaurant options. There’s plenty to choose from, so no bah humbugging… get your work colleagues and friends together along with some mistletoe, and see off the year with a bang…