Christmas Traditions in Barcelona – Devour Tours
This blog post was originally posted on November 17, 2014 and was updated on November 10, 2017.
Though Spain celebrates many of the same holiday traditions as the rest of Europe and the western world, many of theirs are uniquely Spanish, and here in Barcelona, you can also find special customs specific to Catalonia.
In fact, you could even say that some of these Christmas traditions in Barcelona will probably surprise you a lot more than you’d expect!
The Special Days During the Holiday Season
The holiday season here in Spain and Catalonia stretches out much longer than what many countries are used to. That’s because of the 6th of January. The Epiphany, is one of the main holidays. A brief mention of the special days during the holiday season would include:
- La Immaculada, or the Immaculate Conception. It is not necessarily known as a special occasion. Although it is a recognized holiday and is traditionally known as the first day of the festive season.
- Nit de Nadal, or Christmas Eve. This is positively a day of family and feasting. It is also one of small gifts from one of the most beloved Catalan Christmas characters. The Tió de Nadal (see below).
- Nadal, or Christmas day, is another day of a big feast with family. Though not typical of Catalonia or Spain, some families nowadays will recognize Santa Claus. Christmas traditions in Barcelona have evolved to become more European in recent years.
- Sant Esteve, or Saint Stephen’s Day. Obviously, this falls on the day after Christmas and is also a holiday here in Catalonia. Traditionally, people eat cannelloni at home, made with the leftovers of Christmas lunch.
- Cap d’Any, or New Years, is just as big of a celebration as any. Suprisingly though don’t expect fireworks in the Catalan capital.
- Reis, or Three Kings Day, falls every year on the 6th of January. There is a parade, and children usually open presents brought to them by the different kings.
Now that we have the important days figured out, throughout the holiday season, keep your eye out for these other Christmas traditions in Barcelona.
Christmas trees, lights, and mistletoe are all part of the holiday decorations. Although the people of Spain are, in general, most passionate about their nativity scenes, known as belenes or pesebres. Here in Catalonia, however, this tradition is taken to the next level. Here in Catalonia we have a slight obsession with one of the figurines that no nativity scene would be complete without—the caganer.
The caganer, literally the shitter, depicts one of the village folk dropping his pants and relieving himself among the other townspeople and animals present at the birth of Christ. He is so popular, plays such a key role in Christmas tradition, that you will find him everywhere throughout the month of December. That includes souvenir shops, Christmas markets, even the official City Hall nativity scene has one. Furthermore, expect to find famous personas, anyone from Barrack Obama to Lionel Messi, depicted as the caganer.
Ahh, the wide variety of caganers!
Tió de Nadal
They say Catalans have a bizarre compulsion for all things scatological. Furthermore, after learning about Christmas traditions in Barcelona, you wouldn’t be surprised why. Yet another cherished character of the holiday season, and again specific to Catalonia, the Tió de Nadal. This little guy is more commonly referred to as the cagatió. He reigns the month of December as a loving gift bearer in, ahem, one of the strangest ways.
Whereas Santa comes down the chimney with an enormous bag of toys, or the three kings ride in on a lustrous carriage filled with gifts, the cagatió, a log with a smiley face and a red cape, relieves himself of his Christmas delights usually on Christmas Eve or Christmas day. As tradition has it, the log once signified giving the gift of light and warmth during the cold Christmas mass. However, somehow, somewhere, this deep metaphor has morphed into one that all children, unsurprisingly, absolutely adore.
During the weeks leading up to Christmas, they feed the log. Finally, when the time has come, they dance around him, singing and hitting him with a stick until he magically defecates some small gifts or sweets. Always these are similar to what you might find in a stocking.
Spanish bakeries and pastry shops still function on a seasonal basis, and you can expect to find them all stocked with special treats for the holiday season. A hard nougat bar called turrón is the most popular throughout Spain. Try also the softer blando type, made with almond paste and egg yolk, and the versatile chocolate version.
Another specialty is the neules, or cylindric wafers, that is also a typical gift of the aforementioned cagatió. During the Christmas season, most shops make them in-house, and are beyond delicious. They also never look exactly the same. Try the chocolate dipped ones for extra indulgence.
Spanish Christmas Lottery
One of the longest-running and biggest lotteries in the world, El Gordo, meaning, the big one is a huge Christmas tradition throughout all of Spain. People generally buy tickets in groups at work or with friends, despite the fact that nobody actually expects to win.
The Wisemen, or Three Kings, Parade
Though other traditions like Christmas trees and Santa Claus have slowly crept into Spain, the Three Kings remain the most important part of the holiday season for families with children. There are parades all throughout the country. Barcelona’s, the cavalcada de reis mags, is particularly special in that they arrive by boat. Imagine it as if from a child’s point of view, it is indeed pretty amazing.
After docking in Port Vell, the Magi make their rounds throughout the old city center. All the while, waving to the citizens of Barcelona who come out on the streets to greet them. That day, people also enjoy a delicious tortell de reis, or kings cake, a round, stuffed pastry cake that usually has some surprise inside.
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Christmas decorations in Spain | Enforex Blog
By Catalina Suárez on Monday, December 10, 2012
Now that we are in December we can definitively say that Christmas is just around the corner. One of the first issues we might have when visiting Spain during the period between autumn and the beginning of winter is that in many places, especially supermarkets and department stores, the Christmas decorations have already been put up by mid-November. Fortunately, the different city councils are a little more Christmas minded and turn on the decorative street lights only when we reach December.
However, there is a “contention” surrounding the “official” Christmas lights. Many visitors are surprised at their lack of “Christmas feeling”. In some cities we will be able to see illuminations so abstract and colourful that they make us long for the traditional bells or holly leaves. It is not known for sure if it is due to the modern day Spanish desire to be politically correct in everything they do – many people believe that some Christmas symbols can be offensive to other beliefs – , or because of the aspiration we currently have to disassociate ourselves with everything that is considered traditional and that is suddenly thought of as old and typical of an old-fashioned Spain.
In cities like Madrid until relatively recently there was quite a large amount of controversy surrounding the Christmas lights, that were found to be too “avant-garde”. There were even cases where a main street would be decorated in a very modern fashion whilst the adjacent ones had the same traditional decorations as always. This was probably because the lights of the smaller streets are paid for by the neighbours or business owners of that particular area, whose tastes were normally more “conventional”.
Behind closed doors, we Spanish are more traditional: in a lot of homes you will find a Nativity Scene. Recently, “multicultural” Nativity Scenes have become more fashionable whose figurines have been inspired by folklore from other countries, especially those in Africa and Latin America; but it is certain that the majority of households continue to use plastic figurines that, in most cases, are more than a few years old. The nice thing about the Nativity Scene is that, although it is made up of the same component parts, the scenography is never the same as the figurines usually move about on the set, be it due to reasons of innovation or even just forgetting where you had placed them the year before.
It is also possible to find Nativity Scenes in public places like city councils, schools and even shopping centres. Their construction is usually a big event and many people come to watch. In the case of government buildings and department stores they usually contract prestigious Nativity Scene designers whilst in the schools the pupils make the figurines in Arts and Crafts class: meaning it is common to see quite comical scenes where the baby Jesus is bigger than the ox or where each one of the Three Kings is of a different artistic style.
But, in the majority of houses the Christmas tree is preferred: even though it is less “Mediterranean” – remember that the tradition has German origins – it is certain that it has been adopted with much enthusiasm due to its convenience: as it is vertical it occupies little space and it can be decorated with just a few baubles and bits of tinsel. Although you can find natural Christmas trees, that Forestry students usually sell in order to pay for their course, it is more common to see false ones. Artificial Christmas trees are cheaper because they are re-usable and can also be sprayed with artificial snow without the risk of damaging plant life.
In many of the main squares in Spain you will also see Christmas trees, though something similar to that which happened to the Christmas lights seems to be happening to them: the fir and pine trees are being replaced with giant, pyramid shaped light installations. It is for the same old reasons of being cheaper, more durable and more “modern”, but for many people they are less “authentic”.
We won’t go on for much longer: this is the story of the curious evolution that Christmas decorations in Spain have undergone. Note that we are careful not to say “Spanish Christmas decorations” for the following reason: the first ever Christmas lights were turned on in Essen (Germany), the Nativity Scene was brought from Naples by King Carlos III and the first Christmas tree was erected in Spain by the order of the Russian noble Sofia Troubetzkoy. But maybe best not mention all of that until the holidays are over. Try and keep it to yourselves.
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New Year and Christmas in Spain: atmosphere and main attributes
But in other countries, the New Year and the Catholic Christmas preceding it can be celebrated in a completely different way. Or not at all? In this article, we will talk about what the December holidays look like in Spain. The Iberian Peninsula also has its own interesting traditions. For example, during the chimes they … However, first things first.
Right off the bat
While the Russians are just getting ready to put up the Christmas tree and are slowly thinking about their plans for the New Year, everything is ready in Spain. In the last days of November, municipal workers appear on the streets late in the evening and at night, hanging garlands and other decorations. At roundabouts (of which there are much more in Spain than in Russia), “inside” the ring, on the lawn, colorful houses, fabulous figures and even small fountains are installed. By the first day of winter, everything should be ready.
In general, the Spaniards, whom you don’t feed with bread anyway, just let them mark something, the whole of December is associated with holidays. The sixth day is the day of the Constitution, the seventh and eighth are non-working in honor of Inmakulady . Inmaculada is the day of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary; masquerades and Catholic processions thunder all over Spain on this occasion. In Seville, on the 8th of December, a huge figure of the saint is carried through the streets. And in Torrevieja (the most “Russian” city of the Pyrenean coast) festival patronales with giant Lilly, Ogro and Lobo . These are the traditional fairy-tale characters of Spain. Lilly – elegant girl, Lobo – wolf (reminds nothing?). The Russians from this trio are not familiar only with Ogre – a mythical evil giant.
Theaters and philharmonic halls sell out, cafes and restaurants offer holiday menus with tastings of various tapas and affordable prices. Somewhere the townspeople prepare a huge paella, somewhere they arrange races with inflatable bulls. Here, the “parochial” traditions of different provinces come into play, but the essence is the same – there are still two weeks before Christmas, but no one wants to work anymore. And for going to work on the “red day of the calendar” in Spain, they can even be fined. Like this.
Spruce wreaths and the smell of turron
In general, by Christmas the Spaniards already have time to “warm up” and sing. On the eve of Navidad , cribs depicting the scene of the birth of Jesus Christ are installed in city squares, Christmas trees appear in houses. In 90% of cases they are artificial.
Christmas in Spain is a family holiday, just like ours. Wreaths are hung on the door (but wreaths are often made from natural spruce or pine branches) with bells, relatives go to visit and arrange feasts. On December 24, every hostess on the table will definitely have Christmas cake in honor of Three Kings. Their names are Melchior, Gaspard and Balthazar, in the Western European tradition they are revered as the Magi, who were the first to bring gifts to the newborn Christ. A coin for luck and figurines of kings are always hidden in kalach, even if it is bought in a store.
Unlike German Christmas markets with fried sausages and beer, sweets rule the roost in Spain. The most important is called turron. This is a traditional local delicacy made from honey, sugar, nuts and other ingredients. If you have not tried it, it will not be easy to explain, but some Russians describe the taste of turron as something between halva, cookies and chocolate. There is a huge variety of types of turron, and one of them is similar to kozinaki.
On December 24, there will definitely be a lot of different goodies from turron on the table. Its smell in any Spaniard or Spaniard is strongly associated with Christmas. About the same as the smell of tangerines among Russians is associated with the New Year.
Reyes and Papa Noel
Who gives gifts to children? That’s right, Santa Claus and the Snow Maiden! What about Santa Claus in Spain? No, there the main favorite of all children is Papá Noel.
He works under the cover of night and hides toys under the tree or in a festive sock. He shares his responsibility for supplying children with gifts with the same Three Kings, who are simply called Reyes . Unlike Papa Noel, “Reyes” figures are just public. They come to school and home, travel around the city on camels with a retinue of musicians. And while the kings proudly show off riding humpbacked horses, their assistants scatter sweets, caramels, gift cards and soft toys around. Yes, right on the tile and asphalt, in Spain, even in winter, it is almost always dry and clean. Boys and girls rake these treasures into large bags, happily run around in circles and rustle with candy wrappers. By the way, school holidays in the Kingdom of Spain last from December 23 to January 7.
Children in Spain write letters to Papá Noel, and “Reyes” just in case. Adults also do not forget each other and exchange numerous gifts and presents.
Cava and 12 grapes
In Russia, during the New Year’s chimes, some write a wish on a piece of paper, burn it and pour the ashes directly into their glass. In Spain, the chimes also have their own tradition associated with the strikes of the clock – during this time you need to eat 12 grapes. And in the hands of the Spaniard is not champagne, but Cava Spanish white sparkling wine. Most often dry, and semi-sweet will be muscat cava, similar in taste to Russian champagne.
So, if you managed to “destroy” 12 grapes, your wish will surely come true. At this moment, festive events are broadcast on TV from the main square of Madrid . Usually there will organize a concert with invited celebrities. Such a “Blue Light” in Spanish. If you switch channels, you can get live from the Canary Islands, where the New Year comes an hour earlier.
New Year’s gatherings continue until about two in the morning, after which it is customary to go to clubs and discos. Moreover, it is not customary for Spaniards to linger in one institution until the morning , they like to visit several places in one night and “fire” at once on all the dance floors of the city or district. However, those who do not like dancing and loud music go on a tour of guests / bars / restaurants / parks /. In a word, they “carol” in different places until they get tired. Many go to the town square, where a whole sea of people gathers, especially in Barcelona.
But the New Year’s promises to stop smoking/lose weight/start a new life are not familiar to the locals. In general, thinking about something serious and setting some limits for yourself is very un-Spanish. Especially on a holiday. Where better to relax and get maximum pleasure, gobbling up turron and a soft Christmas roll =).
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Spain’s Christmas traditions — idealista
Christmas is the most wonderful holiday, and in Spain it really is. That being said, Spanish Christmas decorations and activities and New Year’s customs can be a bit surprising. Here are 9 of the weirdest and wackiest Christmas and New Year holidays in Spain:
- There is no Santa Claus
- Fat lottery
- They eat grapes to celebrate the New Year
- Christmas food in Spain
- Portal de Belen
- Kaga Tio
- Basque Santa Claus
- April Fools in December 4 Midnight Mass
There is no Santa Claus
Traditionally the Spaniards never celebrated Christmas. Instead, gifts are given to the children on January 6 by the three Magi, or “Wizard Kings”. This means that Spanish children have to wait a full twelve days longer than others to receive their gifts, although this tradition is now beginning to change and they receive Christmas gifts both on Christmas Day and on January 6, which is the Feast of Epiphany. .
What’s more, the “Wizard Kings” parade through the streets of every village and town in Spain on January 5th every year. Known as the “cabalgata”, this parade is a Spanish Christmas tradition that you simply cannot miss.
Children call lottery numbers
Every Spaniard plays the lottery at Christmas, often buying a tenth of a ticket and playing the same numbers as a group of friends or colleagues. This special Christmas lottery is called “El Gordo” or “Fat Man” and the numbers are usually announced throughout the morning of December 22nd live.
They eat grapes to celebrate the New Year
Grapes for the New Year
The clock counts down to the New Year, and in every town square and in every house in Spain people hold a handful of 12 grapes. 3 … 2 … 1 … and instead of shouting “Happy New Year!”, kissing and hugging, the Spaniards are busy trying to eat twelve grapes before the bell finishes tolling 12 strokes. If you fail to eat them all, then you are considered unlucky next year. Just in case, it’s better to eat this New Year’s grape.
Spain Christmas food
Roscón de Reyes
We all know that Spain is synonymous with great food and there are some great holiday meals here at Christmas. The main Crimbo meal usually takes place on December 24, Christmas Eve, and the Spaniards eat the Serrano ham, but seafood and fish also play a big role on the menu, especially king prawns. Dessert is almond sweet turron and Roscon de Reyes, a whipped cream cake with candied fruits on top and beans and a figurine hidden inside. If you receive a piece with a small toy, you will win the honor of wearing a crown, but if your piece contains a bean, you will have to pay for Roscon next year!
Portal de Belem
Portal de Belém is a common Spanish Christmas decoration, with shops and houses creating the overall composition. So what is the Portal de Belém? This is a layout of Bethlehem using small figures to represent the nativity scene of the birth of Jesus. They are simple with Mary, Joseph and Jesus in their manger, or huge and complex structures showing the desert, 3 magi, and even a “caganer”, a tiny figurine of a guy pooping on the floor.
Catalonia has its own peculiar scatological Christmas tradition: a log with a face and legs made is kept in the house or garden and covered with a blanket so as not to freeze. It is called “Kaga Tio”, or “pooping log”. At Christmas, Catalan children spank the log with sticks, singing a song asking it to defecate sweets. Then they pull back the covers and find the candy they’ve been waiting for!
Basque Santa Claus
Meanwhile, the Basque Country has its own version of the jolly fat man that only exists in this region. His name is Olencero, and he is a giant who dresses in peasant clothes, smokes a pipe, and on the night of December 23 in Bilbao, he travels along the Gran Via to the Arriaga theater, ready to leave presents for little children on Christmas Eve.
April Fools in December
Many cultures have a tradition of celebrating a day set aside for pranks and jokes. While we are used to April Fools’ Day falling on April 1st, in Spain this day is celebrated on December 28th and is called the Day of the Innocent Saints. Be careful if you find yourself in Spain on this day, because you can be pranked at any moment.
Wise Kings for Epiphany, Bethlehem, the Day of the Innocent Saints… all these Spanish Christmas customs come from the fact that Spain is a traditionally Catholic country, and it is a common tradition for people to go to church on Christmas Eve after the big Christmas dinner at “Misa del Gallo” at 12 at night.