A Very Catalan Christmas, The Festive Period in Barcelona
In our opinion, Christmas really is one of the most wonderful times of the year in Barcelona. From the life-sized nativity scenes dotted throughout the city’s squares (the walk-through crèche to be found in the heart of the Gothic Cathedral is particularly impressive), to the pageantry of the Three Kings’ Parade on the evening of the 5th January, when their majesties alight from distant lands aboard a resplendent tall ship or the cavalcada, the mystery and exoticism of Barcelona at this time of year is unparalleled.
As Lisa Abend of The New York Times so succinctly described: “Christmas is better in Barcelona. Not for the Catalans the tinsel, the candy canes, the celebrity reindeer with his blinking nose. No, Christmas in Barcelona is an altogether sleeker affair, whimsical and exotic in equal measure…”
Without further ado, here is our Christmas inventory of eating, drinking and staying merry in the Ciudad Condal this month…
The Ubiquitous Caga Tió
Though it may lower the tone, we mention him at the top of my list, as Catalunya’s Christmas countdown is yet to begin until one spots this curious chap peeping out from a public square or windowsill on high.
One of the region’s more obscure festive customs, the Caga Tió (literally “Uncle Pooper”) is a friendly wooden log with two short stumpy front legs sporting a cheeky grin and a traditional red Catalan hat.
A much admired phenomenon in homes, primary schools and Christmas fairs across Catalunya, children deposit raisins and other delicious treats to “fatten him up” throughout December.
Then, when the time comes, our poor friend is then abruptly walloped with a stick (much like a piñata) whilst the children sing, until the blanket covering his posterior is lifted to unveil a pile of gifts!
The Ayuntamiento de Barcelona’s official Caga Tió occupies the Plaza de la Catedral opposite the Gothic Cathedral. Expect a lengthy queue at peak times – he is mighty popular!
Europe’s largest covered festive ice rink has appeared almost overnight in its new spot in Hospitalet. Formerly occupying the iconic Plaça Catalunya,overhead (housed within a gigantic structure occupied by Cirque de Soleil the rest of the year) this popular attraction has expanded, relocating to La Farga exhibition space, leaving room for a gigantic 40m2 ice slide, food trucks and ice sculpture competitions!
Aptly titled BarGELona (as in, ice ice baby), this colossal rink now covers an impressive 4,000 m2, and will host extreme sports competitions like ice hockey (and the not so extreme “street curling”), with live music, exhibitions and a chill out zone for teenagers. The space is filled with glimmering lights and a flow of fantastic music one can’t help but shimmy along to. There is even a (not so) tiny kiddie rink for little ones (complete with shuffling penguin frames to help tots remain upright). A well appointed bar for the grown-ups to imbibe makes this the perfect day or evening out in the pre-Christmas run-up.
A popular pursuit on Christmas day itself is the Copa Nadal – a collective mad dash into the chilly Mediterranean waters of the city’s Port Vell, now in its 106th edition! 400 swimmers take to the starting line in the historic port, gliding the 200 metres towards the finish line in a frenzy of zealous strokes and splashing limbs. Participants are encouraged to adopt fancy dress, but a surprising number of competitive souls turn up in their speedos (I assume for streamlining purposes)!
Fira de Reis
One of Barcelona’s oldest, biggest, and most bustling Christmas markets is the “Fira dels Reis” runs from 20th December to 6th January along Gran Vía (from C/Muntaner to C/Calàbria). This is a perfect opportunity to enjoy the city’s traditional festive atmosphere and indulge in some yummy local treats with friends and family. There is an impressive array of local crafts, foodie products, handy for last minute Christmas gifts with a Catalan twist (try saying that fast three times).
Fira Santa Lucia
This long-established Christmas fair has taken over the vast square beneath the imposing silhouette of Barcelona’s Gothic Cathedral since 1786.
Sporting the largest collection of Nativity figurines for sale in Catalunya, carved and painted by artisans from across the region. Make like a local and carefully select your chosen statuettes from the comprehensive medley, which range from the classic miniature baby Jesus to the outlandish “Caganer”.
A quintessentially Catalan figure, the Caganer is a mysterious character who squats in the corner of the nativity stable (said to bring a fertile harvest). This defecating trickster comes in many forms – from well-known footballers and politicians to a typical Catalan peasant, and represents the absurdity of life even in the most serious (and in this case, divine) of situations.
For those seeking a contemporary, upscale departure from traditional Christmas markets, Barcelona’s pop-up scene has flourished in recent years, offering a considerable evolution from the conventional gift-buying experience of yore…
Palo Alto Christmas Market
This hipster street market is celebrating its first birthday in Barcelona this month, being the one of the newest events of its kind on the pop-up scene.
Housed within a former factory, the sprawling market extends across 3,700m² , where interior design and local artists converge with Barcelona-based fashion designers and innovative concepts galore. With a quirky blend of vintage and new products on offer, there will be workshops a-plenty with a dedicated children’s space hosted by OMY Design & Play (where little ones will be given the go ahead to draw on the walls in the name of creating a giant mural).
Don’t miss the fantastic vegan offerings or indeed the selection of naughty treats – including cocktails by Labuela Flora or a salted caramel Cronut by Chok (the cosmic genius that is the meeting of a donut and a croissant – transcendent).
2 & 3 January
11am – 9pm
La Fira, Mercat de Nadal de Mar de Cava
Dreamy inner-city concept store Mar de Cava is back with a Christmassy celebration of local designers, creative workshops, food and fiesta! Limited edition pieces, the latest local trends and unusual gadgets as well as tempting nibbles await. Find gifts with soul (and chat to their creators – some of the most creative, wonderful people in all of Barcelona!).
18 – 20 December
11am – 9pm
One for discerning bargain hunters and old souls alike, Two Market stocks some of the most affordable second hand treasures to be found in all the land (and certainly in Barcelona – with a special “everything for one euro” deal). Visitors to the market’s special Christmas edition are sure to unearth unique nostalgic Christmas gifts with covetable deals galore. Legend has it that garments and jewellery owned by several silverscreen starlets have been found at this lovely buzzy market in Poblenou.
11am – 8pm
Mise en Scène Christmas Pop-Up
The lovely Agnes and Micaela Mila of Barcelona-based events company Mise en Scène and cool-hunters extraordinaire are hosting this romantic Christmas pop-up within the magnificent setting of the Cupola – a spectacular dome overlooking the buzzing Plaza Francesc Masia. Each year, Mise en Scene’s glamorous, girly festive weekends are the perfect excuse to treat loved ones and oneself.
On the sixth floor of a unique historic building, the market will host a selection of original artists and designers hailing from far flung corners of the nation as well as round the corner. Showcasing delicate jewellery, one of a kind prints and beautiful homeware as well as unique garments and organic cosmetics, the market is ideal for sourcing thoughtful gifts.
Glimpse a breath-taking early winter sunset through the Cupola’s pretty wrought iron window frames, or grab a zesty cocktail and a coveted perch on the Juliette balcony to rest weary shopped-out feet.
17 – 20 December
Midday – 8pm
Plaça Francesc Macià 3 (6th Floor)
The Secret Room Barcelona
The less we tell you about The Secret Room, the better. A space dedicated to beauty, wellbeing and carefree fun, this futuristic speakeasy appeals to people’s sense of childlike wonder as they ascend to a Modernist apartment in the Eixample like no other. Expect the unexpected and maintain a watchful eye on their Facebook page – soirees are announced last minute, for a spontaneous bash in one of the most beautifully curated, ephemeral spaces I have come across in Barcelona.
C/Consell de Cent 304
NB: As I typed the above, they announced a special open house event tomorrow and Thursday…
Va-Va-Voom Food Truck Feasting
Brainchild of the good folks at trilingual publication BCNmes, Eat Street is the original Street Food market in Barcelona. Cresting the Street Food movement’s wave of popularity, this roving open-air festival of global gastronomy has received well-merited hype in Barcelona, where miscellaneous food trucks are the hotspots du jour.
Bringing new meaning to the notion of “catching your food”, you’ll have to be savvy to find them. They have yet to announce dates for their next big event, but rest assured – there hasn’t been a Christmas yet, since the event’s conception, when Eat Street hasn’t regaled roaming diners with festive treats-to-go.
Van Van Market
Van Van Market, another popular labyrinth of international food trucks is set to pop-up over the Christmas period, offering hungry and thirsty city-dwellers an all-encompassing assortment of appetizing delicacies from around the world. You will be absolutely spoiled for choice….soon, very soon!
Date, Time + Locations TBC (those elusive street food vendors!)
Sample Traditional Catalan Christmas Fare…
The first sojourn on any culinary enthusiast’s whistle-stop tour of Catalan gastronomy should be an excursion to the Boqueria market. Remarkable year-round, the market really comes into its own at this time of year and is a must for anyone yearning to absorb the city’s festive atmosphere.
Begin with a gentle initiation and people-watch from the side-lines with a crispy glass of cava before delving into the market’s bustling aisles, narrowly avoiding dangling hams and heavy-handed housewives. Catalan abuelas jostle decisively past overwhelmed tourists, recouping their rightful turf at this time of year in order to claim the juiciest cuts of meat and most coveted ingredients. One of the more unique items changing hands at this time of year is the lesser-spotted giant Galet – a fist-sized macaroni destined to float in a warming chicken soup alongside a single (equally gigantic) homemade meatball.
Equally festive are the colourful Tortell de Reis pastries that appear in swathes prior to the three kings’ arrival. Adorning bakery windows with bursts of candied fruit colour, this glistening o-shaped brioche contains a tiny ceramic figurine of one of their majesties. The person who finds the tiny porcelain king in their slice gets to wear the accompanying paper crown (beware of chipping a tooth). Beware too cheapskates, for therein also lies a dried fava bean – the unlucky finder of which must foot the bill for the tortell!
Another must on many household menus are the three Cs – Catalan Canelones at Christmas. Barcelona’s archetypal festive fare, these hearty stuffed pasta tubes drizzled with salty béchamel are traditionally eaten on 26th December, conveniently using all the leftover Escudella, (uber-tender meat stew) from Christmas day.
Time Out have put together this handy dandy Spanish guide of the best establishments to visit for authentic Canelones (which we are told have been fully taste-tested). Though for the real deal, we recommend befriending a native Catalan – nobody whips this dish up like a sage matriarch.
Alternatively, Attend a Secret Festive Feast At Project Codols 16
Shadowy, clandestine supper club Project Codols 16 is back, taking bookings for special Christmas gatherings each Thursday evening. The brainchild of four mysterious individuals, who have come together to forge the ultimate secret dining experience, this pop-up concept restaurant welcomes diners from all walks of life into a unique historic apartment in the Gotic for a soiree of delicious food, live music and fantastic conversation. We could go into more depth, but that would ruin the surprise!
For enquiries and reservations, email Lucy and Chloe at email@example.com
Fira Craft Nadal, Mataró
From the 2nd until the 5th January, this buzzy artisan fair will set up shop in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento from 10am-9pm. Showcasing lovely local businesses from Mataro and the Maresme region, expect handmade goodies and plenty of tasters! Stock up just in time for the three kings’ highly anticipated annual visit..
There is also a fantastic covered ice rink, and a mini children’s fairground – perfect for keeping the family entertained for the whole day.
Escape to the Mountains and Hit the Slopes
Read Director of Lucas Fox Andorra Jordi Tapies‘ guide to the best slopes for everyone from beginners to experts. The wonderful Tara Stevens has also put together the ultimate guide to Gandvalira – from “chocolate box villages, soaring alpine peaks and deep, winding valleys, pine forests garlanded in snow and glittering icicles”, there’s no excuse not to plan a day trip to the mountains!