Christmas in Barcelona is delightful. There are plenty of quirky traditions to get to know. Shops and homes fill up with Caganer’s a squatting defecating figurine. The Caganer is a symbol of fertility (More at BBC). Not so strange if you consider that manure is fertilizer. You will also see logs with legs, a smiling face painted on wearing a red cap. This is the Caga Tió. Continuing with the pooping theme, a Caga Tió is “fed” during the course of a week. He is covered with a blanket only to be smacked by stick-wielding children. The blanket is removed and…SURPRISE! The happy log has shit out presents. (More on this on NPR.)
Typical Christmas food in Barcelona & Catalunya
The Christmas meal of choice around these parts is an Escudella i Carn d’Olla. It is a hearty broth with various meats. Often beef, pork and chicken are included. To this, they add huge pasta shells. The shells can be stuffed with minced meat. Some families prefer to have soup one day and the meat as another course the other day. Since the lot is boiled, it lacks the brown umaminess that a lot of us associate with Christmas. The vegetable sides are thin on the ground so you may find that a traditional Catalan Christmas is an acquired taste.
If soup makes you think of convalescence instead of festivities look for a Rostit de Nadal. Typically either a duck or chicken. The bird will come stuffed with prunes and pine nuts in a nod to the Moors.
On the 26th of December however, come the canalones. The Catalan answer to Lasagna. Come to think of it – the Catalan answer to Cannelloni. All that leftover meat is stuffed into the pasta, the lot covered with a creamy bechamel sauce and baked until bubbling. The best ones use homemade pasta, thin and silky, and sticking to the pan. Those are the bits to fight over.
This is the time of year when you can barely walk a few meters without someone shoving a tray of chopped up turrón to try. Basically a nougat made of egg whites, honey and sugar. All manner of things are folded into it. Mostly of the nut variety. If you are in town visiting, these make excellent gifts.
Then come the Neulas. These are wafer biscuits, rolled up on themselves the length of a slender cigar. You reach for these at the end of a big meal. When you can’t eat another morsel. Except maybe just one of these. Or maybe two.
Lastly – it’s worth noting that the big gift-giving day in Barcelona falls on the 6th of January. This is Los Reyes Magos -the 3 Kings or Epiphany. The three Wisemen arrive at the Port Vell at 4 pm and the procession of floats starts at 6 pm and ends 3 hours later at the Magic Fountain of Montjuic.
I chat with my friend Marwa who runs the popular Wanderbeak food tours about how to do Christmas Catalan style.
Is Christmas a good time to visit Barcelona?
- Fira de Santa Llucía Christmas Market – Plaça Nova, Gothic Quarter. From the 29th of November to the 23rd of December.
- Nativity Scene – Plaça Sant Juame, Gothic Quarter.
- El Diset. C/ Antic de Sant Joan, 3 – Passeig del Born.
- El Nacional. Passeig de Gràcia, 24 Bis. 08007
- Xerta. C/ Corsega 289. 08008
- Vila Viniteca. C/ Agullers 7, 08003. If you are in an Airbnb over the holidays and want a takeaway Catalan Christmas, Vila Viniteca has paired up with well regarded local chefs and created a complete menu (read more in La Vanguardia). Including truffled canelones!