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Ajuntament de Barcelona
See one of the giant pasta-shell Christmas lights
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Nativity figuresMany Catalan homes have a nativity scene (or 'pessebre') that they set up every Christmas, and each year, people visit the stalls like this one at the market in front of the cathedral to buy new figures and accessories for their cribs
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Photo by Ema Kazlauskaite
Pessebre in Plaça Sant JaumeAs well as the pessebres that people have at home, you can spot public nativity scenes around the city. This one, featuring life-size characters from the Christmas story, is located in front of the Generalitat in Plaça Sant Jaume
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DecorationsAs well as traditional Catalan items, you can find lots of more familiar decorations as well as gifts suitable for friends and family at Barcelona's Christmas markets
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MistletoeMany stalls at the Christmas fair sell mistletoe, as well as poinsettias and other greenery that you can use to decorate your home
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Caga tiósAnother Catalan Christmas tradition is the 'caga tió'. These are logs that are decorated faces and stick legs and given typical Catalan hats (barretines) to wear. In the days leading up to Christmas Day, they are 'fed' by Catalan children; then, on the big day, the backside of the log is covered with a blanket where parents hide gifts. To get them, the children have to dance around the tió, hitting him with sticks and asking him to defecate out his presents...
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Photo by Ema Kazlauskaite
Santa Llucia at nightThe Santa Llucia (St Lucy) market in front of the cathedral can get very busy during the day, so why not visit it in the evening? Both this market and the one at the Sagrada Familia run until December 23rd
From Catalan traditions to donating presents for children, here are 10 suggestions about how to get in the festive spirit without excessive spending:
1. Nativity scenes or pessebres are a key part of the Catalan Christmas experience. Most homes will have one and there are also public scenes dotted around the city. The main Barcelona one can be found in Plaça Sant Jaume, in front of the Generalitat building, and is ideal for taking children. For a more interactive experience, visit a pessebre vivent (living nativity); these events see locals dress up as characters from the Christmas story to recreate Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’s birth albeit with local touches; there are often live animals and stalls selling goods and items to eat. They are more typical in Catalan villages than cities, but the neighbourhood association of Can Baró in Horta is organising one. www.avvcanbaro.org
2. Barcelona libraries are holding activities for children based on Christmas traditions and stories; they will last two hours and cost €3.50 each. Contact your nearest library for details and to sign up.
3. The council is investing big in Barcelona’s Christmas lights this year, and some will be worth a look. Hard to miss will be the 26 two-metre-high galets (the pasta shells that are added to the traditional Christmas Day soup in Catalunya) positioned around the centre and in key spots in the city’s 10 districts. They are part of a new initiative to create festive decorations that fit in with local traditions; plans are said to be in place for giant, lit-up bottles of cava and torrones in coming years. Look out, too, for the controversial solar-panel-run lights in the form of Christmas trees that were widely disparaged last year as an unworthy environmental initiative. They are back this year in Plaça de Comas (Les Corts), Plaça Major (Nou Barris), Plaça Bonanova (Sarrià-Sant Gervasi) and Can Fabra (Sant Andreu). The city’s official Christmas lights will be inaugurated on December 2nd.
4. Although advent calendars aren’t a Catalan tradition, this year the windows of the City Council building in Plaça Sant Jaume will be made into a virtual countdown to December 25th. Images will be projected into a different open window for two hours each evening.
5. Ideal for wintry window shopping are the city’s two main Christmas markets, one in front of the Sagrada Familia and the other at the Gothic Cathedral. You don’t have to be buying to enjoy the sight of the endless Joseph, Mary and Jesus figurines waiting to be placed in family nativity scenes, or to spot this year’s most popular caganers; literally meaning shitter, this character is an essential part of the Catalan crib and represents the act of man giving back to the earth what he’s taken from it. While the traditional figure is dressed as a Catalan farmer, nowadays, politicians, footballers and other famous figures can find themselves represented as the very down-to-earth Christmas character. You’ll also find trees, decorations and gift ideas.
6. Each district will have free afternoon concerts every day at 5pm and 7pm for the first three weeks of December. Ciutat Vella: Portal de l’Àngel; Eixample: Plaça Catalunya; Sants Montjuïc: Plaça de Sants; Sarrià-Sant Gervasi: Plaça Sarrià; Gràcia: Plaça Revolució; Horta: Plaça Eivissa; Nou Barris: Plaça Virrei Amat; Sant Andreu: Plaça Orfila; Sant Martí: Rambla Guipúscoa; Les Corts: Plaça Comas. www.bcn.cat
7. From December 21st to January 4th, city libraries will be collecting toys in good condition to be donated to Xamfrà, an arts and music school for children in the Raval managed by the Fundació l’ARC.
8. The nougat-like torró (turrón in Castilian) is eaten as dessert on Christmas Day, but instead of buying it at the supermarket again, why not make your own? Also makes a great present idea for friends and family. The internet abounds with torró recipes in English.
9. Keep children entertained by taking them to the building of a giant caga tió in Plaça Nova in front of the Gothic Cathedral. The tió is a Catalan tradition, where a log, decorated with a face and legs, is ‘fed’ in the days leading up to Christmas and then on the 25th, the children sing and dance around it asking him to deliver (literally defecate) the presents that the parents have hidden under a blanket covering his back side. The free workshop to make the giant tió takes place between December 5th and 13th from 10.30am to 1.30pm; on December 6th and 8th (both public holidays), there will also be afternoon sessions from 4.30 to 7.30pm.
10. St George’s International Church is holding a carol service on Sunday 20th December. Enjoy traditional songs as well as festive treats such as mince pies. In addition, they are holding a Christmas fair on Saturday 12th with gifts, books and CDs for sale, as well as a raffle and tombola; entry is free (as it is for the carol service) but of course the idea is fund-raising so if you can purchase something or contribute items to sell, you’ll be helping a good cause. www.st-georges-church.com or tel. 93 417 8867.