Barcelona is a great city to discover at Christmas time, although it is cold in winter is not as cold as other European countries, the sea helps us have mild weather. There are certain things that I normally do every year in Christmas in Barcelona, locals have their Christmas rituals and so do visitors. Barcelona gets transformed at Christmas times with street markets everywhere, Christmas goodies and food and artisans. Let's discover everything the city has to offer at that time of the year.
The Catalan poop madness
Not sure if you already knew that Catalans, we are a bit scatological, and Christmas might be one fo those festivities where there are poo related rituals everywhere. Why are we so obsessed with poo? Well, a possibe explanation is that we are nature driven and there is nothing more natural than poo, right? Caga tió and the caganer are the most important ones.
Caga Tió or Tió de Nadal -the pooping log-
Caga Tió is a smiley little wooden block, with two sticks as legs and is the favorite Christmas tradition for children in Catalonia. The Caga tió arrives into the catalan home at the beginning of December and children need to take care of him as if it was a pet. They need to water him, give them food and make sure he is comfortable.
The reward of all the effort the kids have done taking care of the Caga Tió comes on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day it depends on the house, when kids need to beat the Caga tió with sticks -made of paper- while they sing a song that encourages the Caga tió to poop, the tricky part is that the poo is actually gifts.
Normally the gifts are little things, either food, candies, or earrings, socks and this kind of things. An adult supervises the whole thing, you can image a bunch of kids beating the hell out of the Caga tió.
Caganer -the pooping man-
Another poo related Christmas traditions in Catalonia is the Caganer, he is a figure depicting a man with a red hat -catalan typical barretina-pooping in the squatting position. There are caganers of all sizes, and yes there is a caganer that was 6-meter high and it was the biggest in the world. The caganer is placed in the Nativity scene and it is a figure believed to bring good luck so everyone that has a "pessebre" -nativity scene- in their house, sure has a caganer too.
The Caganer is something so deep in the catalan culture that has evolved with time and now you can find caganers with the face of famous people such as Barack Obama, the Pope, Messi or any of the catalan politicians as an example.
The true symbol of the caganer is that it is something very quotidian that everybody does, no matter how famous you are, everyone poops. In every Christmas market in Catalonia you will find caganers for sure, but be aware you are not the one who wants to have fun an see the new caganer faces of the year, get ready because those with caganers are the busiest stalls.
Pessebre -Nativity scene-
Having a Nativity scene at home is a typical thing to do in Catalonia, and I have already told you about our star: the caganer. What you possibly still don't know is that Barcelona, every year in Plaça de Sant Jaume Barcelona a Pessebre is settled, is Barcelona's Nativity scene. Every year is different so it is a big event to stop by Plaça Sant Jaume and have a look at what they have done this year, you will see a queue as most of the times you can get into the pessebre following the path to go through the different parts.
Christmas markets in Barcelona
Barcelona might not be like Anglo-Saxon countries or eastern European countries with their amazing Christmas markets full of details and cute gifts that you would buy them all. We don't have mulled wine and although it is cold there is no need to put on a wool hat or earflaps. This is no reason though to not go to Barcelona's Christmas markets, they are full of Christmas trees, decorations for the Christmas tree and figures for the Pessebres and of course caganers.
Zambombas -kind of a rustic drum-, are another typical thing you will find in the Christmas markets and this instrument used during that special time of the year is to sing "nadales" -christmas carrols-.
Fira de Santa Llúcia is the most famous Christmas street market in the city, runs every year in front of Barcelona's cathedral. It gathers shops all of different kind but with one thing in common: Christmas. There are Christmas trees, flowers, crib figures, decorations for the Christmas tree...
Fira de la Gran via
Another street market that runs at Christmas time, but this one is not about Christmas focused goodies, but about jewellery, clothes, decoration, houseware etc...Most of the shops are artisans and products handmade. The street market is located in la Gran via in Barcelona, between Muntaner street and Calabria street.
Fira de Nadal Sagrada Familia
From 1962 every year there is a Christmas market in Sagrada Familia square, probably the most traditional christmas market in the Eixample district. There are around hundred stalls distributed bychristmas trees, pessebres, traditional figures, christmas decoration or food and sweets.
Christmas Activities in Barcelona
Christmas is not only shopping and Christmas markets it is much more, and being a local in Barcelona I can show you the best activities to do on your holidays so you can experience a true Catalan Christmas.
Christmas lights in Barcelona are a classic of Christmas shopping season, the city center is full of color and lights that change every year, messages and shapes that gather kids and adults to see what is new this year.
Legends and traditions are a big part of Christmas, and there is one legend I have to explain to you. There is a famous character that it is called the man of the noses, it is a popular figure for the children and it is said that he has as many noses on his face as there are days left in the year, so on the last day, on 1st December it could be anyone. The legend says that on 31st December he walks through Las Ramblas, so kids and their parents go around to find the famous Home dels nassos.
La missa del gall -the rooster's mass-
It is the name given to the mass celebrated right before Christmas, at midnight on Christmas Eve. It is interesting, and due to the original name it is worth at least know about it if not going once in a lifetime.
Go to the theatre
It is very typical to go to the theatre to enjoy a play at Christmas time. In Barcelona you could find plays running around Christmas time, check out carefully the dates but it is something locals do! So book in advance!
Christmas time is a great excuse to eat sweet stuff, so get ready to get a couple of pounds more, as in Spain we have loads of things that will keep your mouth happy and your stomach growing.
Giant street galet
A galet is a specific pasta shape that is used to do the traditional Christmas soup, called Escudella. In Barcelona started to appear in the street giant galets from Gallina blanca -a pasta brand-, it is a funny thing to see a big pasta sculpture in the street with a typical food for Christmas.
The Escudella is the star dish for Christmas day, on the 25th of December in a traditional Catalan house you will have Escudella and carn d'olla. Escudella is a soup made with meat and vegetables boiled, when cooked the liquid stock is separated from the rest. The stock with the pasta -the galet- it is waht is called: Sopa de galets. Some people add to the sopa de galets some meat ball from the Escudella too.
After eating the soup, what is next is "carn d'olla", which literally means the meat from the pot, and this exactly what you will eat, the meat and vegetables that were separated from the stock, are served. Normally in the carn d'olla you will find: black pudding, chicken, carrots, potatoes, chick peas, meat ball, meat bones or iberian ham bones covered with some meat. The next course is turkey -called gall d'indi-.
The next day the typical meal is meat cannelloni done with the left overs from the "carn d'olla" and the turkey.
Picture christmas lights by Ajuntament Barcelona
Picture Galet soup by Joan Grifols