Christmas in Barcelona is a magical time that is filled with traditions, both old and new, and an atmosphere unmatched anywhere else in the world.
An unforgettable experience of festive traditions
A marathon of feast days and public holidays that stretches from Christmas Eve to Reyes (Three Kings Day on January 6th). The short but intense days with their blue skies and low winter sun are complimented by the long winter nights that cover the city like a blanket. Underneath all manner of festivities take place that represent the local customs of the Barcelona residents who celebrate Christmas in ways that are unique to Spain and Catalonia, from food and drinks to shopping and culture the streets of the city are alive with the seasonal spirit that provides an unforgettable backdrop to be shared with family and loved ones.
The Yule spirit in the Old City
Christmas in a very important festival in Spain, a lot of planning goes into the preparations within individual households, institutions, companies and urban centres. From early December visitors to Barcelona will notice the beautiful street light displays that are created especially every year to illuminate the festive season. The Gothic quarter and the Born with their extraordinary collection of churches, cathedrals and historical buildings appear to be the invention of a Hollywood set designer at this time of year. A living set filled with lights, the buzz of expectation and the aroma of pastries, toasted coffee, mulled wine and winter perfumes that invites exploration. The City Bar & Restaurant with its warm and cosy interior is the perfect window to observe the living Christmas card scene that Barcelona becomes during the Christmas holidays, situated on the boundary between both of these intriguing neighbourhoods on C/ Laietana, one of the city’s most important arteries which itself is festooned with coloured lights and decorative motifs. Whether it be a pit-stop during a long day of shopping or a Christmas drink to catch up with friends City Bar & Restaurant with its creative and traditional cocktails is just the venue to savour this extraordinary city.
Christmas culinary traditions
The Spanish celebrate their Christmas feast on the evening of December 24th with tables that usually include a variety of seafood, a greatly appreciated delicacy in Spain and other seasonal produce such as the sopa de galets (a shell pasta served in a broth). Not forgetting the local wines and cava, the sparkling wine that is made in the Penedés region, just outside the city. The following day everyone will get together again for lunch and uniquely in Spain the next day Sant Esteve (Saint Stephen’s day) is also a public holiday and one which is celebrated with in the company of food and festive fare. Typically cannelloni is the dish that the Catalans will serve on this day. All of these meals have their specific traditions which are informed by the Mediterranean and its millennial cuisine. A gastronomic smorgasbord passed down through the ages that provides the perfect excuse for over indulgence, even for the most calorie conscious. The City Bar & Restaurant is an ideal place to find out about these local food traditions, at this time of year a specially conceived series of menus created by chef Alberto Vicente and his team provide diners with an opportunity to sample the delicacies associated with Nochebuena (Christmas Eve), Navidad (Christmas day) and Sant Esteve. Groups are also catered for and for anyone extending their stay till New Year or for people arriving in Barcelona for New Year there is a specially created New Year’s Eve menu.
Barcelona is the perfect city to make New Years’ resolutions
The New Year in Barcelona is welcomed with fireworks, cava and 12 grapes which should be consumed at midnight, one grape with each bell marking twelve, that sees the calendar turn over a new leaf. Local people tend to celebrate New Year in restaurants and parties and not so much as home, which converts the animated streets of Barcelona an open-air party. With a specially prepared menu, cocktails and curated music The City Bar & Restaurant is one of the New Year’s Eve gastronomic highlights in the city centre, located right at the heart of the city’s festivities.
The Five Senses of Christmas
It’s not just the sights and aromas that make Barcelona such a unique place to experience the Christmas season, the sounds of the city’s churches and cathedrals also provide a festive soundtrack. Ringing church bells, street choirs and Midnight Mass create a music that is unique to this time of year. That is the soundtrack that visitors will hear when exploring the numerous Christmas markets that seem to appear on every street corner. One of the most exceptional is 'Santa Llucia' in front of La Catedral, on the threshold of Grand Hotel Central, a temporary city of stands that sell gourmet produce, imaginative gifts, souvenirs and toys which goes on till December 23rd (ideal for anyone who left their Christmas shopping to the last minute).
Christmas is a marathon of magical events for kids in Barcelona
For anyone coming to spend Christmas with kids many visitors will be surprised to learn that Spanish children traditionally receive their presents from the Three Kings and not Santa Claus. Although nowadays children tend to benefit from both traditions. The Christmas morning swim is an established tradition in Barcelona, held annually at Portal de la Pau (beside the Customs House) when even Santa Claus has been known to take part.
The Kings arrive on Reyes or the Epiphany, January 5th with a colourful Cabalgata (formal procession) through the city centre that is itself a magical spectacle. For last minute shoppers the night before Reyes the stands which are mounted yearly on Gran Vía are a source of wonder for the young in years and the young at heart. Filled with toys, books and all sorts of gifts the stands operate all night on January 5th and visitors can also sample the churros and chocolate the elongated sugar coated doughnuts that must be dipped into hot thick liquid melted chocolate, which is another of the unmissable winter food traditions here in Barcelona.
Finding bargains and unique gifts
Although the sales do not officially start in Spain until after Reyes (Jan 6th) the city nowadays is replete with shop signs offering Christmas and end-of-year bargains that will keep fans of shopping very busy. The Christmas markets offer a great variety of crafts that in Barcelona reflect the strong traditions in areas such as ceramics, glass ware, textiles and leather goods. Not forgetting the gourmet produce that reflects the Catalan gastronomic culture and which visitors will be surprised to find cheeses, preserves, olive oils, wines, honey and sweets renowned for their quality.
Photo by Guillermo Álvarez Fernández