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Christmas in Barcelona

 It’s definitely way past Christmas, but Barcelona is so pretty at Christmas I wanted to share some of my pictures from the holidays, as well as talk a bit about the Christmas traditions around Barcelona.

Plaça Cataluyna

One thing that shocked me about the arrival of the holiday season here was the cold!

It’s not like I’ve never experienced cold before – I spent my very first winter on the planet in one of the coldest winters on record in the north of England (not that I remember). I was back there 20 years later for another record-breakingly cold winter.  I’ve been to cold places like Holland, Scotland, and England in the dead of winter.

See? I have totally experienced real winter.

Still, it’s a little different being somewhere cold for the weekend, and living somewhere cold. Plus, my idea of cold is southern California winter, which hasn’t dropped below 70 degrees during the day for the past 3 weeks. I had Christmas dinner by the pool.

So Barcelona’s chilly temperatures meant I had to buy my first-ever winter coat. I’ve gone out wearing 4-5 sweaters and the thickest scarf I could find. When we went to see an F.C. Barcelona match I felt like I was going to die! People from actually cold countries keep letting me know that it’s not really that cold at all, but I’m freezing!

The lights on my cross-street!

But back to Christmas. I didn’t spend  Christmas Day in Barcelona (see my posts about my California holiday trip here and here). The decorations started going up around mid-November and were officially switched on in December.

The lights started at 6 p.m. and went until 11 every night. Luckily, my apartment is by two of the biggest streets in the city, so if I leaned far enough out my window I could catch a glimpse of the pretty lights! Here’s what that looked like. 

The biggest Christmas market

There were also special displays, like a giant Christmas tree and ice skating rink in Plaça Catalunya, and big lighted replicas of a special Christmas pasta shape on the Rambla de Catalunya. And there were Christmas markets!

One is by the Sagrada Familia, but the biggest one, the Fira de Santa Lucia, is in the square in front of the cathedral. I did some of my Christmas shopping there (and may have bought myself one or two things as well!)

Apparently every year on Christmas day there’s a swimming race in the harbor with people dressed as Santa Claus – or, shall I say, Papa Noel. I haven’t been there for Christmas day ever, so I’ve only read about this in the paper, but it sounds pretty funny!

Photo credit: Huffington Post

A weird thing they have in Catalonia during the holidays is the Caga Tío – literally ‘the shitting log’. I have yet to understand this tradition. He craps presents. You have to beat him with sticks to make this happen.

Everyone thinks this is hilarious/awesome. There are tons of figurines of various celebrities and politicians and whatnot squatting with their trousers down à la Caga Tío that you can buy. I think I prefer Santa coming down the chimney!

You can find many a Caga Tío here. 

January 6th is an important holiday – Reyes. In Spain, the three wise men are called the Magic Kings. They bring presents for good children, and coal for the bad ones. There’s a parade for this, but again, I’ve only seen this one secondhand.

I have, however, experienced the magic of a free 5-room discoteca to celebrate Reyes. In English, I’ve heard this holiday called Epiphany or Twelfth Night, but as I’m not religious I can’t really say much more about it – just that we don’t celebrate it in California!

Basically, it’s another holiday for Spanish kids to get presents. Apparently some only get presents on the 6th. Either way, Christmas is awesome if you’re a Spanish kid. Here in Catalonia it seems that Reyes is more like how we celebrate Christmas (with opening presents and stuff), but in the south of Spain I remember that happening on Christmas itself. 

Passeig de Gràcia lights

As far as non-Christian holidays go, I found pretty much nothing. In California, I’m used to seeing things that are holiday-related but not about Christmas. I haven’t seen much of this in Spain, as basically everyone is Catholic.

Even if they aren’t a practicing Catholic, most people still seem to say they are. The way I’ve interpreted this is that they’re “culturally Catholic”, similar to how in the U.S. you can be culturally Jewish, though of course there are differences.

Anyway, according to Wikipedia, 76% of Spaniards consider themselves Catholic, with another 21.3% reporting that they’re either atheists or not religious. So that doesn’t really leave many people who are religious but not Catholic.

Also the Spanish have a pretty extensive history of expelling non-Catholics, which just might have something to do with it. 

This meant there wasn’t any of the “Merry Christmas” vs. “happy holidays” arguing that seems to explode every December in the U.S. media. But they do say “Merry Christmas” in Spanish (Feliz Navidad) and “happy holidays” (“bones festes”) in Catalan.

I’m not sure if this is an intentional statement by the Catalans. Sometimes they do make a point of using their language in different ways than Spanish, usually to differentiate themselves from Franco’s fascists.  However, I can’t say for sure if the “bones festes” thing is the same, especially because when I spent Christmas in Portugal they also said “happy holidays.”

So, that’s pretty much all I have to say about my experience of Christmas in Barcelona. I wish I’d gotten to eat more traditional Catalan Christmas food, but I was sick most of December and couldn’t really go out to eat. The restaurant under my apartment was doing a Christmas lunch special and I should have gone because it looked amazing – lots of special fancy stews, yummy desserts, and bottomless cava. Next time, I guess!

Gaudí’s Casa Batlló and lights

It was definitely cool being in a beautiful city decorated so extensively; I just wish I’d been able to enjoy more of it. Still, what I saw was pretty and helped me feel a tiny bit happier about surviving my very first real winter.

And I got to spend Christmas day with my family at home, which meant I was lucky enough to experience two different holiday celebrations.

Currently reading: 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

Currently listeningFairytale of New York by the Pogues & Kirsty McColl because it’s a Christmas song! It’s one of the only holidays songs I actually like, and one that my mum plays every Christmas. 

Besos!

-Jess

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