Christmas is celebrated in many countries around the globe. However, each culture puts its own spin on it. To me, it’s one of the best time to learn about a culture as you can see a many unique and often quirky traditions in a very short time.
Barcelona is not an exception! Catalan culture is rich, and its peculiar Christmas traditions are a delight to explore!
To help you make the most of your time in Barcelona during Christmas, I put together a list of things to do and traditions worth seeing!
1. Meet a Weird little Christmas Log (Tió de Nadal)
“Tió de Nadal” which means “Christmas log” in Catalan is also more commonly known as the Caga Tió (pooping log). It’s a bit weird, and for that weirdness, this tradition is often misunderstood by foreigners. Don’t be one of them!
Caga Tió is essentially a wooden log with a friendly, smiley face painted on one end who wears a traditional Catalan red hat. You could think of him as the Catalan equivalent of Santa Claus. The idea behind it is that children look after Caga Tio from the 8th of December until Christmas Eve. They cover his “butt” with a blanket to keep him warm and feed him Turron and orange peels every day. The more he is fed, the more presents he will “poop-out”. I’m not joking, it’s true. On the day with big D, children hit the poor thing with a stick to get the presents out. After that, they lift the blanket and tadaa!
Presents are there. Insider tip: the log didn’t poop the presents out, parents put them under the blanket the night before.
Where can you see it? Well, each Catalona family has it’s own Caga Tió at home, but you will also find a giant one in Plaça Nova by Santa Llúcia market.
2. Make a Date with the Christmas Crapper (El Caganer)
El Caganer is another unique character of Catalan Christmas. In fact, he forms an important part of the Nativity scene. He wears the traditional Catalan clothes (red hat, white shirt, black pants) and causally squats with his pants around his ankles, pooping. Pooping for real, not pooping presents like Caga Tió!
Although it might seem strange at first, it kind of makes sense. The tradition comes from the 18th century and is seen as a sign of good luck - he fertilizes the soil and ensures a plentiful harvest for the coming year. Personally, I think he gives a nice touch of humor and reality to the Bethlehem scene 😄.
Where can you see it? Usually, in the Nativity scene, it’s hidden behind a tree. You can find them at Christmas markets as part of Bethlehem or just on its own. It’s one of the best souvenirs to get in Catalonia ‘cause every time someone sees it you will have some explaining to do.
3. Marvel at 3D Nativity Scenes (El Pessebre de Nadal)
“El Pessebre” is the name of a nativity scene in Catalan. The official Pessebre de Nadal of Barcelona is at Plaça Sant Jaume in the Gothic quarter. It’s normally open to the public from the last Saturday of November until the beginning of January.
When you visit, try to find the hiding place of el Caganer!
4. Stroll Through Fira de Santa Llúcia
Fira de Santa Llúcia is the oldest and largest Christmas market in the city, just in front of Barcelona cathedral. The market is filled with stands selling handmade Christmas decorations and other crafted Christmassy goods. It kicks off at the end of November and ends December 23. It’s usually opened from 10:30 am until 8:30 pm (until 9:30 pm on holidays and vigils).
5. Don’t miss Fira de Nadal de la Sagrada Família
Fira de Nadal de la Sagrada Família is another renown Christmas market. It has been held in Plaça de la Sagrada Família since the 1960s which makes it one of the most traditional Christmas markets in the Eixample area.
The stands offer a bit of all including trees, nativity scenes, traditional characters, Christmas decorations, food, Christmassy sweets, and many other gift-worthy products.
6. The Innocents’ Day on December 28 (Dia dels Innocents)
Dia dels Innocents is, in its essence, the April Fools day happening in December. Playing practical jokes on your friends and family with no harm intended on this day is an incredibly old tradition. The most classic prank is pinning a paper doll (llufa) on someone’s back without them noticing.
The Innocents’ Day falls on December 28 because that’s when Christian churches remembered children who died by the hand, King Herod. The relationship of the pranks and the sad story of these children is based on the tricks parents had to play on their kids to keep them out of the way from Herod’s soldiers without freaking them out.
7. Attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve (La Missa del Gall)
Even if you are not a massive believer, Christmas midnight mass is worth visiting. There is something clandestine and enchanting gathering in the church at night to celebrate love.
One of the best places to attend mass on Christmas Eve is Basilica de Santa Maria Del Mar. Be sure to check it out!
8. The Kings’ Day Parade on January 5 (Cavalcada dels Reis)
January 5 is the Night of the Three Kings, the Three Wise Men. In Catalonia, it’s not a chubby Santa Claus sliding down a chimney who brings the presents. It’s the Three Wise Men who bring children gifts on their mighty camels. Be sure to be good! Otherwise, you will get nothing more than a few pieces of coal!
Where Can You See the Three Kings?
Although the holiday is on January 6 (the epiphany day that closes holiday seasons and when children open their presents), the parade happens on January 5. That’s when the three Wise Men arrive in Barcelona after a long journey from the East, carrying long-awaited presents. After a few words of welcome, the procession takes place all across Barcelona.
The Parade begins from Av. del Marquès de l'Argentera at 6 pm.
The Three Kings and their companions will make their way through:
- Pla de Palau
- Pg. Isabel II
- Via Laietana
- Pl. Urquinaona
- Fontanella, Pl. Catalunya
- Pl. Universitat
- Rda. Sant Antoni
- Av. Paral·lel
- Pl. Espanya
- Av. Reina Maria Cristina
You can even sign up to be the part of the parade if watching is just not enough!
Want to get the chance to learn about a new culture and live in the heart of a thriving European city? Study Abroad Apartments offers some great options for students planning to live abroad. Just get in touch with us if you need any help finding somewhere to stay and we’ll make sure you have one of the best options out there!