Holidays In Barcelona

Exploring Catalan Traditions

Paula Rodenas Guasch

Walking through the streets of my hometown, Barcelona over the holidays, I realized how unique the city is, filled with distinctive architecture and stunning landscapes. I feel a wave of nostalgia as I remember all the small beautiful corners I discovered throughout the Catalan capital. Its large avenues were not only filled with tourists, but also with white Christmas lights that illuminated every night of my two week December vacation.

As I entered the Gothic Quarter, I looked up at the old and medieval architecture of the neighborhood, and my feet automatically led me to my favorite market stand. I always remember the happiness of my 10-year-old self walking through the stalls of “Fira de Santa Llúcia,” Barcelona’s largest and most famous market. Every year, my family and I go there to buy Catalan Christmas decorations, specifically the “Tió de Nadal” (also known as “Caga tió,”) a small log with a smiley face that is covered with a blanket and wears a traditional red Catalan hat, the “Barretina.” Every day, from early December until Christmas night, the children of Catalan families sit around the “Tió de Nadal” and sing the “Caga tió” song while poking it with a stick, hoping that small presents will appear under the blanket on Christmas day, as Santa Claus is not part of our tradition.

Christmas night is my favorite night of the holidays, as it is dedicated to families uniting and eating a traditional dinner together. Generally, dinner starts with a bowl of soup known as “sopa de galets.” The second course is meat, which is usually accompanied with shellfish. At this point in the meal, I’m usually already full, but I can never leave dinner without dessert. “Turró” and “neules” are my favorite typical Catalan Christmas treats. “Turró” is a nougat confection in many different flavors, usually shaped in a rectangle. “Neules” are typical Catalan biscuits flavored with lemon and sometimes covered in chocolate.

Of all the Christmas traditions in Barcelona, Epiphany, the Feast of The Three Kings, is one of my favorites. Similar to how children in the U.S. write letters to Santa, kids write to the Three Kings explaining what they would like for Christmas. These letters can be sent by mail or delivered in person. As a kid, I gave my letter in person on the night of Dec.5, when the Three Kings arrived in Barcelona and led a procession through the city. Every year, they throw candy to the kids, which is eaten as a farewell to the holidays. I competed with my friends to get the largest amount of candy, later sharing it among everyone. That same night, families often put milk and cookies under the Christmas tree, hoping that the Three Kings will leave them with presents the next morning.

In addition to Christmas, there are many Catalan traditions for New Years are celebrated widely throughout Barcelona. I love gathering in “Plaça d’Espanya” on New Year’s Eve with my friends to see the “La Font Màgica de Montjuic,” a huge water fountain that lights up on special occasions. For those who do not attend the live show, they can watch big clocks in different parts of the country on their TVs. Exactly 12 seconds before midnight, people try to eat 12 grapes, one each second. In Spain, it is said that if one is able to eat all 12 grapes before midnight, they will have good luck for the coming year. I look forward to my trip to Barcelona to spend time with my family and enjoy Catalan traditions during the holiday season. Although the streets are not covered in snow, the lights that line the streets of Barcelona create a magical mood throughout the holidays.