Design i sentrum’s top ten tips for Barcelona in December

Design i sentrum’s top ten tips for Barcelona in December

1. PLAN AHEAD
If you have certain things you want to see, or shops you want to visit whilst here, make sure you don’t pick a day when everything is closed. December is a festive month, and on special dates it will be impossible to visit museums, shop, or indeed go out to eat at certain restaurants. Here’s a list of public holidays in December:


6. Constitution day
8. Day of the immaculate conception
25. Christmas day
26. Boxing Day / Saint Stephen’s day


2. ENJOY DOWN SEASON
Barcelona is a busy tourist destination for most of the year, so avoiding other tourists completely is impossible. However, during the month of December, you might find that some attractions are less crowded. Many tourists come for Christmas shopping, therefore visiting certain museums or parks, walking along the beach line and taking trips out of the busiest shopping areas, may offer you some peaceful moments of joy. Of course it depends on where you want to go – the Picasso museum in Barrio Gotico, for one, is usually pretty busy all year around.


3. ENTER THE CATHEDRAL
Whether you’ve been before or not, the cathedral during this season is quite spectacular – even more so than usual. Don’t be surprised if you have to queue up alongside the locals to be able to see the betlen, which is the Catalan name for crib, also meaning Bethlehem.
The nativity scene is displayed every year in the cloister. It’s sealed off from the rest of the cathedral (the entrance is on the side of the building), and it’s usually quite popular. The cloister also has a pond with a fountain, and houses 13 geese, apparently representing the age of Saint Eulalia when she was martyred. We usually enter for the beautiful atmosphere. As Christmas is getting closer, the tranquility and all the beautifully lit candles really make for a special visit.

 

4. TRAVELLING WITH CHILDREN
If you’re travelling with children, they might be fascinated with the spectacle taking place in the market outside of the cathedral, or indeed in other markets around Barcelona. Rather than receiving their presents from Santa Claus or finding them under the Christmas tree, Catalan children wait patiently for Tió de Nadal. Popularly called Caga tió, which translates into shitting log, it’s a creature that takes the form of a wooden log wearing a big red hat or blanket that, effectively, covers all the Christmas presents. The idea is that the children hit the log with a stick until it miraculously spills treats and candy. Again, don’t be surprised to see queues of children lining up to have their go at the log. One is usually to be found on a small stage in the plaza in front of the cathedral.

 

5. GET A HOLD OF A CAGANER
Many Catalans are religious and frequent church goers. However, this region also has a long tradition of what can only be described as a playful approach to the Catholic Christmas traditions. This is especially true for the nativity scene, which in addition to the traditional figures of Maria, Josef and the baby Jesus, also includes the popular Caganer. It’s origin is unknown, but this smiling character wearing the traditional Catalan hat, called barretina, is said to have excited since the 18th century. The name Caganer translates as “the shitter”, which makes perfect sense once you see one and discover that he is in fact squatting down to relieve himself. Entering a Catalan home, it’s not unusual to see a traditional betlen, some of which are very big, with the Caganer in the corner. As this rather strange tradition has caught on, different characters have been made, representing the Caganer. Many markets have their own stalls selling these figures. Keep your eyes peeled for Caganers in form of stars like Elvis or Madonna, or famous politicians like Angela Merkel, or even Barack Obama.


6. TRY ICE SKATING IN PLAZA CATALUÑA
Every year, similarly to traditions in many other cities around the world, Barcelona mounts an ice skating rink in the middle of the city. Being a place where the temperature rarely dips below zero, it’s a welcome change in this central plaza, and a sure sign that Christmas is just around the corner. It’s also fairly popular among the locals.


7. TRY THE SNACK OF THE SEASON
Another sure sign that Christmas is near are the many stalls that sell roasted chestnuts and boniatos, which is the Spanish name for sweet potatoes. The smell is heavenly, and whilst the chestnuts are probably more common, the sweet potatoes are absolutely worth a try.

 

8. ENJOY THE CHRISTMAS MARKETS
Every year outside the cathedral, you can visit the Saint Lucia Christmas market selling Caganers, nativity figures and all sorts of Catalan Christmas decorations. It’s nice to walk through it, although you will not find hot toddies and sweets like in so many other Christmas markets in other European towns, – nor will it be that cold. However, once you’ve seen it and perhaps picked up something special for your own betlem, you can dive back into the old town’s narrow streets in search of a small tapas bar and perhaps a vermouth. Other markets include:
– Fira de Nadal, which is a similar market that can be found in one of the parks outside of la Sagrada Familia.
– Mercat Gòtic, located in Avenida Portal de l’Angel, this is a hotspot for shopping just off Plaça de Catalunya. Be aware that this market may get very crowded.
– The markets around Santa Maria del Pi, aren’t exactly Christmas markets as they are open all year around, but still, they’re worth mentioning here. The Basílica de Santa Maria del Pi is located right in the heart of the old town and does not have one large plaza in front, like the cathedral, but rather three small ones along its sides. The little squares are very charming; one hosting a kind of farmers market with delicious treats, the other, which is usually open only during the weekends, a painters market.

 

9. GET ILLUMINATED – FUM FUM FUM
Getting lost in Barrio Gotico, the old town, is always a good idea. During the month of December, narrow snickets and the smallest places have Christmas decorations up, giving this area an even more magical feel than usual. Take your time as you’re walking around to gaze up at these mood setting lights, many of which are changed every year, and really soak up the atmosphere and get into the holiday spirit.
– Christmas decorations in the major streets are also quite impressive, especially in Passeig de Gràcia, Carrer d’Aragó and in Via Laietana.
This year Gran via is decorated with words from a Catalan Christmas carol as a result of an illumination competition held earlier this year. The carol, called 25 de diciembre fum fum fum, is thought to date back to the 16th or 17th century. (The word fum translates as smoke and may refer to the smoke rising from the chimneys on a cold winter day).
– Certain buildings also make an extra effort every year. Be sure to check out Hotel Majestic (also on Passeig de Gràcia), El Corte Inglés (you’ll find one on Plaça de Catalunya), Las Arenas (a shopping centre on Plaça España) and, one that particularly impressed me this year, the Mercat del Born (a cultural centre on Plaça Comercial). Plaça de Sant Jaume, home to government buildings and the town hall, is also dressed up for the season with lights, a Christmas tree and even a betlem.


10. DISCOVER THE DISH OF THE SEASON
Have you been walking around Barcelona and noticing some odd looking sculptures that appear to be, well, pasta? Then you’ve discovered the strange, but very important traditional meal that is, Galets. It’s usually made as a soup (Sopa de Galets) with pasta shells, and may also contain a big meatball meant to be shared. The Catalan version sees the shells filled with meat. For many of us, pasta is something we eat on a day to day basis, and although delicious, it’s easy, cheap and quick, and certainly not something we connect with Christmas. Well, the Catalans do! However, the strangest aspect is that this dish has become such a symbol of the Christmas season that they also use it in decoration. So, if you didn’t think you saw what you saw when you walked past a huge pasta shell on the street the other day, you probably did. Some actually measure up to a metre in height, and if you want one for your home, plenty of shops sell them, smaller scale.
Some local restaurants may serve this dish, but as the Catalans usually eat it at home, it’s rarely seen in restaurant menues.

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