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Christmas tree home
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Many 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 Jaume
As 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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As 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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Many 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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Another 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 night
The 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
Fira de L'Avet, Espinelves December 6th-15th
Espinelves is directly north of Montseny so it's good to combine the bracing winter walk to get the blood moving. It's not so much about food as Christmas trees, but since Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without the latter, and the festivities also include an artisan food market and special menus in the village restaurants, it's as good a place as any to get into the Christmas spirit. Aficionados choose between the masjoanis tree, which has dark green leaves, a deep pine smell and adapts well to heated houses, and the more common picea excelsa, found all over Europe. Try Ca l'Angelina (93 884 9204) in the middle of the village for traditional local dishes.
Fira de Nadal i dels Torrons, Cardedeu December 13th-15th
On Friday December 13th the little town of Cardedeu in the Vallès Oriental hosts a Torró Fair - a nougat confection similar to the torrones of Valencia. A bonfire is lit and kept stoked and burning right through the fair ends on Sunday night. Meanwhile, the town's artisans get together to make the torró de Borrego. The feasting doesn't stop there though. Throughout the day and into the night, a huge cauldron of escudella (the traditional hot-pot of meat, sausages, legumes and vegetables) is served, washed down with gallons of cava. Further information: www.firadenadal.cat
Fira de Nadal, Olot
During the first week of December, Olot's Christmas market is the biggest and best-loved in the Garrotxa region, near Girona. It takes place in the spectacular cloisters of the old Hospice building (now a museum) where local farmers come to showcase their finest products, their wives bring cakes, jam and sweetmeats, local cellars bring out their finest wines and the best Christmas crib images are brought out by local artists from the local carving school. It's a great place for picking up typically Catalan arts and crafts, not to mention Christmas caganers, and a Tió de Nadal (the Christmas log that is ordered to 'shit' such treasures as dried figs, nuts, turrón and sweets in exchange for Yuletide songs). It's ideal for essential quirky presents for friends and relatives.
If this doesn't take your fancy, treat yourself to a gourmet lunch in the spectacular restaurant Les Cols, (Ctra. De la Canya s/n, Mas Les Cols, 972 269 209, www.lescols.com). It won the FAD03 award for sleek architectural reinterpretation of an old masia and is as famous for design as it is for food. Chef Fina Puigdevall offers some of the most inspired cooking in the Garrotxa region, updating local products such as ratafia, chestnuts, Santa Pau beans and pork products. Tourist information : 972 260 152
Fira del Gall, Vilafranca del Penedès December 21st & 22nd
Vilafranca's Saturday market is always a delight, but the Christmas market is truly special. Dating back to medieval times it was even mentioned by Giacomo Casanova in his writings as a gourmand's delight, because of the sheer abundance of products available.
The town is famed the world over for the quality of its still wine and cava. Less well known is the superior breed of poultry found in the Penedès, as revered locally as France's VIP Bresse chickens. To get your mitts on one for the pot this Christmas, head down to this lively cockerel fair where all manner of poultry is for sale from local farmers, along with a free slaughtering service from a local matadero. The star products are the black gall (cockerel) and the Muscovy duck, otherwise known as the 'mute' duck, as it is unable to quack. Both boast delicate, sweet-flavoured meat and tender flesh.
Arrive early in the morning to be sure of the best haul and stick around for lunch. Many of the town's restaurants participate in the feasting and it's a good opportunity to try the town's own version of chicken and chips which is sold all over. For wine and tapas try Taverna Inzolia (Carrer de la Palma 21, y Carrer Sant Bernat 3, Tel. 93 818 1938), which offers 20 different local wines by the glass every day. Tourist office: 93 892 0358 - www.vilafranca.org/firagall
El Niu, Palafrugell
El Niu (the nest) is one of those Catalan specialities that is about as usual these days as a two-headed snake; except that is, during the first two weeks of December when the restaurants of Palafrugell are full of the stuff. The ancient dish comes from the Costa Brava and was originally eaten during Lent because it doesn't contain meat as such. It's a lengthy process in the making and usually includes cod tripe, salt cod, potatoes and hard-boiled eggs. Like most traditional recipes there are innumerable ways of making it and El Niu has evolved over the years to include chicken, rabbit, cuttlefish and sausages. Every restaurant has its own version and offers a special menu at this time of year for the adventurous gourmand to investigate. Palafrugell is a democratic kind of place and the tourist board is unwilling to recommend any one restaurant in particular. Call. 972 300 228/972 611 820 or go to www.palafrugell.net for a list of participating restaurants.
Mercat de Nadal, Valls December 21st & 22nd
Located right in the centre of Valls, the merry December market is a haven for Christmas shoppers and festive foodies. From live poultry to wine and champagne, sweets and honey to Christmas trees, there is a wonderful variety of every decorative item and handicraft that you could possible need this Christmas. The Mercat de Nadal brings back the old traditions of the ancient market town with fresh fruit and veg available on the Saturday morning, perfect for accompanying any one of the plump turkeys and chickens for sale over the weekend. The market with its street lights, folk traditions, live music and many a nativity scene, is the catalyst for Christmas cheer and the start of all festivities.