While Spain’s Christmas celebrations are colorful almost anywhere, travelers during the holiday season will find Catalonia, the provinces in the eastern region along the French border, filled with pageantry and lively local customs.
Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter
During the second week of December, decorations and lights appear on the streets. Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter begins to look as though Catalonian architect Antonio Gaudi himself had returned to decorate it for the holidays, and a giant nativity scene is set up at the Cathedral. The Santa Lucia Market opens on December 13, filling the plaza in front of the Cathedral with smaller nativity sets and figures for sale, as well as an eye-boggling array of gifts and decorations. This market, which spreads into Placa Nova, continues through Christmas Eve.
Found here and only a few other places are an unusual take on the Yule Log tradition. Instead of a cake, they are piñatas filled with presents and treats for children. Each log has a face on one end, wearing a red hat.
Live Nativity Scenes
Adding to the long-standing tradition of nativity scenes in nearly every Spanish city and town, in Catalonia these are often live performances, called pessebres or pastorets. Along with the nativity in Bethlehem, these depict the flight into Egypt and other events surrounding the birth of Christ. Although many places present these, the one in Corbera de Llobregat is perhaps the best known.
Monastery of Montserrat
At midnight on Christmas Eve, the bells ring throughout Spain to signal the beginning of the candle-lit La Misa Del Gallo, Rooster’s Mass. One of the most beautiful of these services is held near Barcelona, at the mountain monastery of Montserrat, where the boys’ choir sings the Mass. This choir, called La Escolania, is one of Europe’s oldest boys’ choirs. The monastery, which is a major pilgrimage site, observes another long-ago tradition on December 28, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, when a boy from La Escolania is chosen as Bisbeto, or Little Bishop.
Also near Barcelona, at Centelles, December 30 brings Festa del Pi, the Feast of the Pine Tree, commemorating the martyrdom of Santa Coloma at the hands of the Romans. A lively procession parades a pine tree through the streets, before it is made into a bonfire remembering the saint’s death in a fire of pine branches. Fireworks follow the bonfire; modern revelers doubtless enjoy this a great deal more than did the 17-year-old saint.
Epiphany in Barcelona
The arrival of the Three Kings on January 6, the feast of the Epiphany, is greeted by celebrations all over Spain, but especially in Barcelona, where they arrive by boat. The elaborate procession begins the evening before, on January 5, at Portal de la Pau, and the progress of Los Reyes Magos is followed by throngs of people as it moves through the city.