We tell you what makes each day special, what happens and whether or not it's a public holiday (those marked in italics mean you get a day off). It's worth remembering that what's important here is the date, so if a public holiday falls on a Saturday or a Sunday, then it's just bad luck; you don't get an extra day off in lieu.
JANUARY – Gener (in Catalan); Enero (in Castilian)
1st: New Year’s Day; Any nou; Año nuevo
New Year's Eve here is much like anywhere else (overpriced bars, drunken teenagers in the main square, bit of an anticlimax), although there are a couple of local customs you might want to adopt. The first is the wearing of red underwear to bring luck for the approaching new year and the second is the eating of 12 grapes (preferably seedless) for each bong of midnight. This isn't as easy as it might sound, and it's said that the timing of bells throughout Spain is set to run a little slower for this particular day to give us all a better chance of swallowing, rather than choking on, the little green fruit.
6th: Three Kings Day; Dia dels Reis; Día de los Reyes
The three Wise Men (Balthasar, Caspar and Melchior) bring presents for children on the evening of the 5th ready to be opened the next morning. Many towns and villages have a parade for the children on the evening of the 5th; floats pass through the streets and sweets are thrown to the kids (of all ages) who line the streets. For lunch on the 6th, families eat the tortell dels Reis; the lucky person who finds the little king figurine in his or her slice gets to wear the paper crown. But watch out for the hidden bean: the person who finds that in their piece has to pay for the cake.
17th: Sant Antoni is the local patron saint of animals and so to mark his saint's day, take your hamster, budgie, iguana or whatever pet you have (of any size!) to your local church to be blessed. if you don't have a pet, then go and watch a parade of horses and carriages: different neighbourhoods in Barcelona and towns throughout Catalunya host such processions, often featuring well-groomed horses pulling carts and carriages. In the Barcelona barri (neighbourhood) of Sant Andreu, the horse-back band of the Guàrdia Urbana also takes part in the celebrations. As with many other Catalan and Spanish festivals, there is a special cake to be eaten for Sant Antoni—similar to the tortell dels reis (see above), it is a round cake with a hole in the middle of it that has pieces of candied fruits and a little animal hidden somewhere in the cake (watch out when eating).
FEBRUARY – Febrer (in Catalan); Febrero (in Castilian)
12th: Santa Eulàlia. Parades of giants and medieval dances to celebrate the Feast of Santa Eulàlia, who is the city's 'second' patron saint (actually, she was the original saint, but someone decided that she should be replaced by Mercè—see below under September). A cultural festival that is particularly aimed at children with events such as concerts, plays, correfocs (in which people dressed as devils and dragons and run through the streets breathing fire and sparks. Don't stand too close unless you're well covered up).
Carnaval—the dates change each year according to when Easter Sunday is, but whenever it falls, carnaval is a big party time. Dressing up is the main aim of the game, but there are also other traditions such as eating omelette and egg sausage (botifarra d'ou), and burying a sardine. Obviously.
Lent; Quaresma (Catalan); Cuaresme (Castilian). Small sugar-covered donuts are eaten here on the Wednesdays and Sundays of Lent – they’re called bunyols (or sometimes brunyols) and are expensive, but just buy a couple to try!
MARCH—Març (Catalan); Marzo (Castilian)
Holy Week; Setmana Santa (Catalan). A week of religious celebrations starting with the Palm Sunday procession through Rambla de Catalunya, when you'll see children carrying large and elaborate 'palms', and culminating with Easter Sunday (Pasqua)
In Catalunya, Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays, whereas in other parts of Spain, it’s Holy Thursday and Good Friday (not Easter Monday). Here on Easter Monday, expensive chocolate creations called mones are given to children, traditionally by their godparents, although that isn’t necessarily who gives the present nowadays.
19th: Father's Day and Sant Josep; Dia del Pare i Sant Josep; Dia del Padre y Sant José. Father's day falls on this date every year, and is doubly special for anyone called Josep with children. In Catalunya, families mark this occasion by eating delicious local puddings, crema catalana and flan.
APRIL—Abril (Catalan), Abril (Castilian)
23rd: Diada de Sant Jordi, one of the patron saints of Catalunya (in English, Saint George), and this day is now also the International Day of the Book. It is a tradition for a man to buy his sweetheart a rose and for women to buy their partners a book. The main streets of Barcelona and other Catalan towns, are given over to book and flower stalls. It’s not a public holiday, but many people spend as much time as they can strolling the streets and soaking up the romantic atmosphere, especially if the weather is fine.
27th: Feast of the Virgin of Montserrat, another of the patron saints of Catalunya.
MAY—Maig (Catalan); Mayo (Castilian)
1st: Labour Day; Festa del Treball (Catalan); Día del Trabajador (Castilian)
The day after Pentecost Sunday: Dilluns de Pasqua Granada or Segunda Pasqua – this is a public holiday in Barcelona only [public holidays here can be national, regional or just in one town, when they celebrate an important local festa, like a patron saint]
JUNE—Juny (Catalan), Junio (Castilian)
24th: Sant Joan. Celebrated with fireworks, cava and cake around the city on the evening of June 23rd to mark the shortest night.
A slow month, with no festivities to speak of
AUGUST—Agost (Catalan); Agosto (Castilian)
15th: Feast-day of the Assumption; Festa de la Assumpció; Fiesta de la Assunción
SEPTEMBER—Setembre (Catalan); Septiembre (Castilian)
11th: National Day of Catalunya; la Diada. Unlike those places that remember triumphant victories from their past, Catalunya instead looks back to a notorious defeat, namely the day in 1714 when the besieged population of Barcelona, which had held out for over a year, finally succumbed to Spanish and French troops and the formerly independent nation found itself becoming part of the regime of Felipe V of Spain. The king was not magnaminous in victory—he outlawed many Catalan institutions as well as the use of the Catalan language; a state of affairs that lasted until well in the 19th century. As such, for many Catalans, what this day marks is a reflection on how things once were and how they might be in the future, with independence-minded locals particularly prominent.
24th: The day of the Mare de Déu de la Mercé, Barcelona's 'main' patron saint. Free concerts, activities and processions are held around the city during the week. Public holiday in Barcelona only on 24th itself.
OCTOBER—Octubre (Catalan); Octobre (Castilian)
12th: National Spain Day; Dia de la Hispanidad. Although a public holiday throughout Spain, it is not widely celebrated in Catalunya; the military parades are reserved for Madrid.
NOVEMBER—Novembre (Catalan); Noviembre (Castilian)
1st: All Saints Day; Tots Sants, Todos los Santos. People remember those who have died, with many visiting the cemeteries where family and friends are buried. Family lunches in Catalunya on this day will include seasonal treats sweet potato (boniato) and chestnuts (castanyes) for dessert.
DECEMBER—Desembre (Catalan); Diciembre (Castilian)
6th: Constitution Day; Dia de la Constitución—marking the Spanish constitution that came into being following the death of General Franco, and the transition to democracy from the fascist dictatorship that ruled Spain since the end of the Civil War.
8th: Immaculate Conception; Fiesta de la Immaculada Concepción. While Spain is no longer the seriously Catholic nation it once was, there are still some important religious public holidays, of which this is one. Many people take the 7th as annual leave (or are lucky enough to work for a company that gives them an extra day off), to make what is called a pont (bridge), of three days of holiday in a row. This also happens when a public holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, with people taking the Monday or Friday respectively to give themselves a four-day weekend.
25th: Christmas Day; Nadal; Navidad
26th: Boxing Day / Saint Stephen's Day; Festa de Sant Esteve. This is a public holiday in Catalunya
28th: Dia de los Innocentes; local equivalent of April Fool’s Day