Christmas is one of the biggest holidays to celebrate for many people, and is certainly one of the highlights of December in Barcelona. Christmas in Barcelona is an incredible experience with exciting festivities and beautiful decorations and lights throughout the whole city center! Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, the festivities and sights around the city are nonetheless still worth checking out.
New Year in Barcelona: 7 traditions
Christmas in Barcelona: 8 traditions
Catalan: Caga Tió, Tió de Nadal or tronc(a) de Nadal, soca or xoca
English: Christmas log
Spanish: Caga Tió or Tió de Nadal
Caga Tió is more or less translated as “Christmas Log” and is a central tradition in many areas of Spain, as Catalan mythology says that Caga Tió is the one responsible for bringing small presents on Christmas day. Caga Tió usually appears as a small piece of dead wood (usually about 30 centimeters long) with two little stick legs and a happy face that has a little nose sticking out. It also has a little red berettina-like hat and sometimes a small red blanket for the chilly season. In the past, though, Caga Tió was far more “simple” in its appearance as a plain piece of dead wood.
Traditionally, Caga Tió makes its first appearance on December 8th, the Day of the Immaculate Conception, and is then “fed” things like sweets, candies, and nuts every night.
Finally, on Christmas Eve, Caga Tió is put in the fireplace and the family bashes it with a stick while commanding it to secrete lovely Christmas things like presents, wafers, candies, and more; at the same time, the log is commanded to not secrete anything stinky, which is how Tió de Nadal also became known as “Caga Tió,” meaning “shit log.” Throughout this process, traditional Christmas songs are sung until finally Tió’s blanket is pulled off to reveal the small presents and treats underneath.
English: Crapper – shitter
The caganer is also known as the “crapper” or “shitter” and is a popular figure in Catalan nativity scenes (passebre) from as long ago as the 17th or early 18th centuries. The caganer traditionally appears as a crouched figure wearing a barretina hat and smoking a pipe or cigar. Sometimes, it is also seen reading a newspaper and/or with a piglet sniffing around nearby. More recently, though, some caganers imitate famous people, making it exciting to see which figures each new year unveils. In turn, caganers have become quite the collecting item for some people.
Nativity scenes in Barcelona
English: Manger / Nativity Scene
As is the case in many countries and households celebrating Christmas around the world, the nativity scene (passebre) and manger is a common Christmas theme. Traditional nativity scenes have been around since the 12th century and then shortly spread around the Mediterranean and to Catalonia, first beginning in churches and then also households.
In Catalonia, the traditional nativity scene is made from plant materials with the birth of Jesus as the main focus, of course. Other important figures in the scene include Jesus’ mother, Mary, and father, Joseph, as well as the shepherds, and the three Kings (or Wise Men). The most unique figure in the nativity scene, though, is the previously discussed caganer (the “crapper”).
In Barcelona, the concept of the pessebre is central to the Christmas season, which is very apparent throughout the city. For example, you can also find life-size nativity figures in Plaça Sant Jaume. Additionally, one of the most famous Christmas markets, the Fira de Santa Llúcia, showcases many craft nativity scenes and is absolutely worth checking out, if not for the nativity scenes then at least for the other Christmas items there.
Catalan: Vesc, i Grèvol
English: Mistletoe, and Holly
Spanish: Muérdago, y Acebo
Some of the most popular Christmas decorations include mistletoe (ramilletes de muérdago) and holly (grèvol). These plants are often found throughout the home and in nativity scenes (passebre). Partly because the fruits ripen around Christmas, they are associated with good luck and protection. Of course, there is also the idea that if a couple finds themself under mistletoe, which is so often found above doorways, they ought to kiss. Nonetheless, mistletoe and holly are only two of many popular Christmas decorations found among Catalonia.
Catalan: Missa de Mitjanit
English: Midnight Mass / Mass of the Rooster
Spanish: Misa del Gallo
The Misa del Gallo, more or less translating to the Mass of the Rooster, is the midnight mass celebrated on Christmas Eve, the 24th of December. The seemingly odd name comes from the idea that this is the time shortly before the rooster crows to commemorate the birth of Jesus. Usually, the “Song of the Sibyl” occurs before the Rooster’s Mass, and is a song about a fortune teller who dictates the arrival of the messiah. Perhaps the best place to attend the Misa del Gallo near Barcelona is at Montserrat Monastery, which is no doubt an incredible experience.
Catalan: Dolços de Nadal
English: Christmas sweets
Spanish: Dulces navideños
Christmas in Spain wouldn’t be the same without its favorite seasonal sweet treats. Turrón, marzipan, polvorones, mantecados, peladillas, alajúes, alfajores, tortas reales are just some of the names of the mainly almond-based delicacies that fill the shelves in supermarkets and homes at this time of year. There are two traditional types of turrón; every Spanish home has someone who loves the soft Jijona turrón, as well as an admirer of the hard type from Alicante.
However, the trend in recent years has turned more towards chocolate coating and unusual ingredients, making the shape of the packet sometimes all there is in common with the traditional varieties. Diversity is not such a new thing though. Centuries ago people used to make turrón with hazelnuts, walnuts, or pine nuts and use flavors such as cinnamon, orange, ginger, and aniseed. There were white varieties, black ones, red ones, guilloche and candied fruits, a vast and scrumptious array that shows the complexity of the old Spanish sweet-making.
Christmas parties organised by Spanish companies
Spanish companies will organise a big Christmas dinner/party for their employees, no expense spared. It’s an opportunity for the team to dress up, enjoy a fancy dinner and start the festive celebrations off the right way.
Buy and decorate a Christmas tree!
Of course, one of the most iconic Christmas symbols is a Christmas tree, which is usually then decorated with ornaments, garlands, and/or lights. Generally, the best bet for finding a Christmas tree in Barcelona is by going to a florist around the city or even a Christmas market. For example, Catalunya Plants is one solid option for a real Christmas tree, and also makes for a great experience for kids with a mini farm, bounce house, swings, slides, and more.
Christmas Season Holidays
Catalan: Nit de Nadal
English: Christmas Eve
On the 24th of December, Christmas Eve is generally a family affair for most people, where families gather together around a Christmas lunch or dinner in advance of the official start of Christmas the next day. That evening, some people will also attend the midnight mass marking the true start of Christmas.
In Spain, many holidays are often a mixture of Christmas and Pagan traditions; however, as a historically Catholic holiday, Christmas is celebrated on the 25th of December in honor of the birth of Jesus.
St. Stephen's Day
Catalan: Dia de Sant Esteve
English: St. Stephen’s Day
Spanish: Dia de San Esteban
The second day of Christmas is known in Catalonia as ‘Sant Esteve’. This day is celebrated similarly to the first day of Christmas. Many families and friends gather to have a nice, long meal together. Traditionally, ‘canelons’ are served as the main course. These are filled cannelloni and are usually made with ingredients that were left from the meal the day before. Many Catalans then enjoy the Christmas Concert that takes place in the extraordinary Palau de la Música Catalana.
Three King's Day
Catalan: Dia de Reis
English: Three King’s Day
Spanish: Dia de los tres Reyes
As one of the most important holidays in Spain, Three Kings Day, also known as the Epiphany, on the 6th of January is a big deal in Barcelona. Historically, Three Kings Day represents the day the Three Wise Men gave their gifts to the baby Jesus. Thus, this day is a part of the Catholic calendar and marks the conclusion of the Christmas season (the 12th day of Christmas).
Typically, this is when everyone receives the “biggest” presents, whereas Christmas Day itself is more for the “smaller” presents, like from Tió de Nadal. It is said that the Three Kings themselves, who are also known as the Three Wise Men, or Magi, are the ones responsible for children’s gifts.
In Barcelona, on the evening of the 5th of January, the Three Kings Day parade is held, a massive event where the Three Kings make their appearance.
4 Best Christmas Markets in Barcelona
Fira de Santa Llúcia
This Christmas market is one of the most popular ones in the city, as well as the oldest. The market has been located in front of the Barcelona Cathedral since 1786. One can find a wide range of craft products and Christmas items at the fair, amongst many other things. Over two hundred stalls are set up at the Plaça de la Seu and Avinguda de la Catedral until Christmas time. Visiting the fair is the perfect activity for those that are excited to get into the Christmas spirit.
Fira de Nadal de la Sagrada Familia
Since 1962, the Fira de Nadal has occurred at the Plaça de la Sagrada Família, and is generally known as the most traditional market for the Eixample district. This year it runs from the start of December through the 23rd. There are four major areas of stalls to check out: Christmas trees and plants, traditional figures and decorations, food, and gifts.
Fira de Nadal del Port Vell
Another excellent Christmas market to visit is the one at Port Vell. The fair opens on December 5th and closes its doors on January 6. One of the many reasons why this fair is loved by so many is because of the beautiful location with the contrast between the view of the sea and the Christmas atmosphere.
On the market’s opening day, there is always a music performance and the traditional lighting of the lights. There will most likely also be an ice skating rink and a carousel. There are many fun activities for children to participate in, such as learning how to row. Music entities and schools in the neighborhoods gather at the market to share their love for music with people.
Fira de Reis
For those looking for children’s gifts for the “Twelfth Day of Christmas”, more commonly known as Three Kings’ Day on January 6th, this is the perfect market to visit. Because Christmas celebrations technically last until Three Kings’ Day, there is still plenty of festivity to be had! Therefore, many locals come to Fira de Reis to buy their Christmas and Twelfth Day presents since there is such a wide range of toys. It is a lovely market to visit for families. Make sure to get some freshly made churros from one of the ‘xurrerias’. A visit to this market without having some churros is simply unacceptable – it is part of the tradition, after all!
Christmas Events / Things To Do
Christmas Festival at Plaça de Catalunya
From the 16th of December to the 29th, Plaça de la Catalunya and Plaza de la Universitat will have various Christmas events and things to see that caters to all audiences, old and young alike! With all sorts of different forms of entertainment, this is yet another thing to add to your Christmas in Barcelona bucket list!
Shopping Night (La Nit del Passeig de Gràcia)
From 19:00 until midnight on the 19th of December, the Passeig de Gràcia will have stores open for (often) discounted Christmas / nighttime shopping. In addition to all the shopping, the street will have live music and concerts with beautiful Christmas lights all around.
Visit Käthe Wohlfahrt
This famous store in the Gothic Quarter is an incredible Christmas experience and even operates year round. It is designed as a little Christmas village with all sorts of Christmas trinkets and decorations to buy or even just look at and appreciate. One of the stores most iconic features is its 4.50 meter Christmas tree decorated with festive lights and ornaments of all sorts.
Barcelona Christmas lights ceremony
The Christmas lights in Barcelona, also known as “Llums de Nadal,” are truly a spectacular sight with over 100 km of colorful and festive lights throughout the city. This year, Barcelona’s incredible Christmas lights will be unveiled on the 23rd of November at 18:30 from the Passeig de Gràcia, and will remain up until the 6th of January.
The beautiful lights are lit up Sunday to Thursday from 17:30 to 22:00, and 23:00 on Fridays and Saturdays. Some of the best streets to see festive lights for Christmas in Barcelona include, but are not limited to: Passeig de Gràcia, Las Ramblas, Portal de l’Angel, Gran Vía de les Corts, Plaça Urquinaona, Via Laietana, Carrer Aragó, and more!
Els Llums de Sant Pau
You can have a really unique holiday experience at the modernist hospital Hospital de Sant Pau. This experience is truly one of the highlights of Christmas in Barcelona for its incredible light displays, and is absolutely a must-see; however, because it is so popular, it is recommended to reserve tickets in advance. Thousands of lights illuminate this former hospital complex during the Llums de Sant Pau. You can have a stroll while admiring all of the different light installments. It is definitely a special experience worth bringing the whole family to, as it is amazing for kids and adults alike.