El Caganer, Tió de Nadal, and More: Barcelona Holiday Traditions

Bells are jingling, dreidels are spinning; the whole world over, people are prepping their favorite traditions, and Barcelona holiday traditions are no exception. Barcelona holiday traditions are a charming combination of old-world and brand-new, each one uniquely Catalan. Here at Lifestyle Barcelona, we have designed...

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Bells are jingling, dreidels are spinning; the whole world over, people are prepping their favorite traditions, and Barcelona holiday traditions are no exception. Barcelona holiday traditions are a charming combination of old-world and brand-new, each one uniquely Catalan. Here at Lifestyle Barcelona, we have designed your go-to guide for Barcelona holiday traditions!

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

While some stores might start offering Christmas deals after Thanksgiving or the minute Halloween is over, the 8th of December is the Spanish kickoff to the most wonderful time of the year. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception, or El Día de La Concepción Inmaculada, is an official Spanish holiday, with shops and banks closed so that people can spend the afternoons enjoying church services, family lunches, and afternoons traipsing through the stalls at the Christmas markets. This is also when many ski resorts around Barcelona open to the public for the new season, so if you’re interested in a skiing holiday, the time is now.

Christmas Markets

Many European cities spend the holidays in a blitz of holiday crafts, presents, and tasty treats, and Barcelona is no exception. The classy, cozy Christmas markets pop up all over the city, and they do so in dozens of stalls bursting with creativity. Some, like the famous Fira de Santa Llúcia, boast a charming collection of Christmas decorations and handicrafts; others sell odd assortments of plastic toys, antique books, and more. The Fira de Santa Llúcia is located right outside the Barcelona Cathedral, making it one of the most heavily-trafficked markets in the city, and it’s well worth a visit if you want to find something amazing.

Tió de Nadal, or Caga Tió

Some traditions have echoes in other cultures, but best Barcelona holiday tradition is Catalan, through and through. While Santa has certainly become his own figure in Catalan culture in the last few years, the primary Christmas figures have remained the Three Kings (Los Tres Reyes) and an oddly charming Christmas tradition: el “Tió de Nadal.” “Tio de Nadal” refers to a Christmas log, but the log in question is more affectionately known as “Caga Tió,” or “uncle poop.” Starting on the evening of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Catalan children “feed” candies and small presents to the log, covering him with a blanket to keep him warm. This continues through the rest of the holiday season. Then, on Christmas Eve, the children hit the log with a stick, sing special “Tió de Nadal” songs, and wait for the little log to “poop” out presents! It’s a funny, joyful time to be a child in Catalonia.

Barcelona holiday traditions
Caga tio, traditional christmas symbol on Catalonia in a local market stall


As present as the Tió de Nadal are the caganers, little Catalan figurines utilized in nativities. “Caganer” means “pooper” or “crapper” (yes, really), and has come to mean a small figurine wearing a traditional Catalan beret and depicted in the middle of, well, pooping. Often made to resemble figures from popular culture like footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, famous politicians, or the Pope, these cheeky little creations were invented sometime in the eighteenth century. Many believe that they symbolize the renewal and fertilization of the earth. One thing is for sure: they liven up any nativity scene they touch. Interested? Get your very own caganer here.

Christmas Eve

Although Santa routines are becoming more popular in Catalonia, Christmas Eve is a time for family. In fact, it’s Christmas Eve when children hit the Tió de Nadal, and Christmas Eve when families gather to eat carn d’olla. This rich soup is made with meat and pasta, and many families serve it with tapas, shellfish, and of course lots of jamón. Dessert is the treats received courtesy of Caga Tio, including the holiday delicacy turrón. Many families dress up in nice clothes to go to midnight mass, where they celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Christmas Day

As the bulk of Christmas celebration happens on Christmas Eve, the actual day is a quiet one for many families. Families spend the afternoon wandering through parks, dining at restaurants, and playing with the handful of new toys. Once they have enjoyed a lunch with family, it’s back home to enjoy a peaceful evening.

Barcelona holiday traditions
Some families spend Christmas in parks like this one.

Feast of Saint Esteban

The day after Christmas, Catalonia enjoys a unique holiday. In honor of the first-ever Christian martyr Saint Stephen, the people of Catalonia take the delicious carn d’olla leftovers from Christmas Eve and use it to make the filling for tasty pasta rolls called canelons. This holiday celebrates the thrifty Catalans, who take pride in utilizing every bit of leftover food they can.

Day of Holy Innocents

This exciting Barcelona holiday tradition is described as Catalonia’s April Fools, and it happens on December 28th! Although this particular festival has some dark roots (the biblical Massacre of the Innocents, for one), it has grown into a cherished and even funny part of Catalan culture. People pull silly pranks and try to trick each other into believing false stories, referring to the gullible as “inocentes” (or innocents). Highlights include putting the silhouette of a man on the backs of the unsuspecting, or else the media reporting fake news in the name of fun or charity.

Near Year’s Eve

We get it: NYE is a big deal in just about every country, all over the world. But nobody does it quite like the Spanish. Of all of Barcelona’s holiday traditions, this one might be one of the most exciting. On New Year’s Eve, families gather to eat traditional food like lentils, as they symbolize prosperity in the new year in a way similar to the American tradition of eating black-eyed peas. There’s lots of cava, or Spanish sparkling wine. At midnight, when the clock strikes midnight, everyone quickly pops twelve grapes, one for each month of the new year. It’s important to eat each grape before the clock stops–don’t, and you risk bad luck! Once the grapes have been eaten, it’s time to party! The Spanish don’t typically go out until one or two o’clock in the morning, and New Year’s Eve is no exception. Bars are packed, clubs glow neon-bright, and the streets are full of people celebrating.

The Three Kings

Before Santa Claus, there were the Three Kings, and in Barcelona, these three wise men rule the holidays. Prior to the fifth of January, Catalan children make sure to leave out their shoes for the Three Kings (los Tres Reyes) and some water for their camels. Many even write letters to the Reyes, explaining what they would like for Christmas. Inspired by the story of baby Jesus, who was blessed by three kings from distant kingdoms, the Catalan Reyes arrive late on January 5th, on a boat from a far-off land. Then they make their way through the city in a fabulous parade with an electric energy. The streets teem with excited children, parents, and everyone else while the city sparkles with elaborate costumes, the shimmer of flung candy, and more. After leaving the port, the parade winds through the whole city, ending with a bang in the city center. The next morning, children wake to see what the Reyes have brought them! After a morning of playing with new toys, the family gathers together for the last of the holiday meals. At this one, there is a marvelous, ring-shaped cake called “el roscon de reyes.” Baked inside are one small king figure and one little dry green bean. If you’re lucky, you find the king and get to be king for a day; if you’re not, you find the bean and have to pay for dinner.

Overall, Barcelona has some stunning holiday traditions. What did you think of our recap of Barcelona’s holiday traditions? Let us know in the comments!

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