Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia and as a cosmopolitan city it is full of traditions, folklore, festivals… both its own and those of other cultures brought by people who have settled in the city.
In this link of the City Council you can find daily information on the activities, parties… that take place.
It is also worth entering this page where the history of the festivals, the characters, the dances… protagonists of this city are more extensively reported.
Here I will probably try to bring you closer to some of them.
During your visit to the city you will hear a language spoken and you will see that the names of the streets, shops, information… are written in a language other than Spanish (Castilian). Catalan is a Romance language whose first written examples are found in the 9th century. Catalan is the language understood, spoken and written by the majority of the people who live in Catalonia. We can also find it in the Valencian Country (valencià), Andorra (it is the official language of this country), the Balearic Islands and other localities such as Catalunya Nord (southern France).
We leave you some words so that you can use them during your visit:
- Bon dia: Good morning
- Gràcies: Thank You
- Si us plau: Please
- Adéu: Good Bye
Castells (human towers)
Declared by UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010. It means castle, they are human towers (human pyramids) of several floors high that are already spoken in the 18th century, they originate from the area of Tarragona (Valls) from where it spread to the rest of Catalonia. We can see them at parties or in contests in Castells.
To build a Castell, you need the pinya made up of a large group of people in which family, friends, spectators collaborate… and who act as a buttress, so that the members of the colla raise the towers that can have various heights and shapes. When it rises (aixeca) the castell is made with the toc del castel, a musical fragment played by the gralles, the tambori and the flabiol, instruments that indicate the moments of construction and deconstruction of the tower. The castell is considered raised when the enxaneta (boy or small girl) reaches up and raises his arm. Seeing carregar (lifting) and descarregar (downloading) a castell leaves no one indifferent, the silence that occurs among the spectators while the toc of the castell sounds is impressive and the audience follows the rise of the enxaneta with their eyes.
Currently many women participate in the Castells as castelleres, this is a tradition that has also served to integrate in Catalonia many people who have come from other countries.
The Catalan poet Juan Maragall said that “la sardana és la dansa més bella de totes les danses que es fan i es desfan” (The sardana is the most beautiful dance of all dances that are done and undone). This dance is considered the traditional dance of Catalonia, it is danced in a circle by couples holding hands, its music is performed live by the cobla.
Nadal / Navidad (Christmas)
If you visit Barcelona during the Christmas festivities, it is essential to stroll through its illuminated streets, visit the Fira de Santa Llúcia in the Plaza de la Catedral, taste the typical dessert of the 25th, nougats and attend a concert by Nadales (Christmas Carol).
Traditionally, the Fira started on December 13, the feast of Santa Llucia, but is currently moving forward. You will find all kinds of crafts (jewelry, clothing, decoration…), Christmas trees, Christmas decorations, figures for the Neixement (representation with figures of scenes of the birth of Jesus and the visit of the three wise men) and one that is only in Catalonia: the caganer, a figure that represents a defecating shepherd and that can currently be found representing politicians, footballers, singers…
Another typical Catalan item on the 25th is Caga Tió. Piece of log that is going to be found in the mountains and that the children “feed” so that on Christmas Day they “shit” sweets by hitting them with their canes while singing. Currently giving gifts.
In a Christmas dinner there is never a lack of sweet dough nougat obtained by cooking honey to which peeled and toasted almonds are incorporated, delicious desserts of many types, although the traditional ones are called hard and soft or from Jijona. Many polvorones are also consumed.
ATTENTION: on the 25th and 26th (Sant Esteve) are holidays, museums and shops are closed.
Los Reyes Mágos (Three Wise Men)
The night of January 5 is a magical night for all children in Catalonia and throughout Spain, the Three Wise Men from the East come and bring gifts to children who have behaved well. Everyone has to go to sleep early and leave food and water for the kings and their camels. On Three Wise Men Day (January 6) it is traditional to eat roscón for dessert, a cake that hides a surprise, whoever finds it is the king and he will be lucky or he can also pay for the cake.
Since the 60s there has been a parade (three kings parade) through the city. The kings arrive by boat by sea and are given the keys to the houses so that they can enter and leave the gifts.
Currently this tradition of leaving gifts coexists with that of Santa Claus on December 25.
The week of the bearded
From January 15 to 17, the festival of three saints who are represented as beards and who are associated with the cold and snow of these dates is celebrated. In Barcelona one of these saints, San Antonio Abad, is important because he is the patron saint of animals and they are blessed on that day. This date inaugurates the city’s calendar of celebrations and is linked to that of the Three Tombs. Its origin goes back to the times when animals were essential for the rural economy and their protection was sought with the blessing of the Saint.
It is celebrated the following Saturday at the San Antonio Abad festival in honor of this saint. Since 1826 there is evidence in Barcelona of this celebration, which was held in what is now the Sant Antoni neighbourhood. It consists of a procession with local animals (horses & donkeys) and different types of carriages that go around the neighborhood three times in a circuit. When passing in front of the church, both these animals and pets of all kinds are blessed. It can be seen from old carts and carriages, where all kinds of products are loaded (firewood, beer, straw…), to travel cars or hearses.
February 12th: Feast of Santa Eulalia – Greater winter festival
Santa Eulalia, a Christian martyr from the 4th century AD, is the patron saint of Barcelona together with the Virgen de la Mercè. The week of February 12 (the day of its festivity) is celebrated with religious acts (from the 18th century) and other popular acts such as correfocs, parades, sardanas, castellers… that run through the Ciutat Vella.
On the 12th you can see the Procession of the Laies where the giants of the city and all the giants named Laia from all over Catalonia will participate. among them the is a Giant known as Laia de los Gegantons Vells del Pi that has been a part of the celebration since 1780.
These days you can see the Pendo de Santa Eulalia (historic banner of the city) on the balcony of the Town Hall.
Tradition says that during the Mercè festivities it rains because Santa Eulalia cries when she has to share in being the patron saint of the city.
March 3th: Saint Medir
Gracia is one of Barcelona’s most iconic neighborhoods and hosts the well known festival of Sant Medir. In the morning there is a pilgrimage to the hermitage of San Measure (in Collserola) and then the colles return to BCN parading through the streets of the Gràcia neighborhood, while from the floats and horses they throw candy to the public who is watching them. It is also celebrated in the neighborhoods of Sant Gervasi, La Bordeta and Sarrià.
The origin of this festival is the promise of Josep Vidal i Granés, a baker from Gràcia who in 1828 promised to go every year to the hermitage of Sant Measure if he was cured of an illness. Eventually friends and family joined him and the colles were organized. At first, beans were thrown, which is what the saint cultivated, and over the years it was replaced by candies.
April 23: Sant Jordi
On April 23, one of the most beautiful festivals that you can enjoy in the city is celebrated.
Sant Jordi is the patron saint of Catalonia and you will see his image represented on many buildings, such as on the façade of the Generalitat de Catalunya building or on a door of the Archive of the Crown of Aragon, the work of Subirats.
Tradition says that you have to give a red rose to your beloved, a symbol of love and the blood shed by the dragon from which, according to legend, a rose is born. The woman gives her love a book, as this day is said to coincide with the death of Miguel de Cervantes, William Shakespeare and Garcilaso de la Vega.
The city is filled with roses and books. The people of Barcelona live this festivity in the street. Many buildings and museums are free and can be visited, such as the Ateneu library, which can only be accessed by its members during the rest of the year.
First Thursday after Pantecost: l’ou com balla
The first Thursday after Pentecost is the celebration of Corpus Cristi (exaltation of the Eucharist), which may vary according to the dates of Holy Week. In Catalonia we can see the tradition of the OU COM BALLA which consists of making an egg dance on the water spout of a fountain without falling. The origin of this custom is not known, although there is already evidence of it in 1637 in the cloister of the Cathedral of Barcelona.
Its symbology is uncertain, the egg would represent the sacred host and the chalice, the cup of the fountain that collects the water. The fountains are decorated with fruits (cherries, fruits of this time, would be related to the blood of Christ) and flowers (they would represent the resurgence of life, the resurrection).
Currently almost all eggs are made of polystyrene, but before, the egg was emptied, sealing the hole with wax, and due to the Coanda effect, the water slid down the curved surface of the egg making it rotate (dance) and counteracting forces keeping it in balance.
June 25th: Sant Joan
Festival of pagan origin of worship to the sun that celebrates the summer solstice. The night of San Juan (June 23) is the shortest of the year, a magical night with many symbolic elements: fire with the bonfires, bathing in the sea at midnight, the plants collected this night enhance their properties.
The city is filled with bonfires in which everything bad is burned, the purifying fire drives away evil spirits. From the Canigó mountain, the flame that is received by the authorities of Barcelona with the Àliga and the Giants of the city descends, this fire will move to the neighborhoods to light the bonfires. In the squares there are Verbenas (parties with dances, popular dinners) and fireworks shows
From August 15th to 21st: Festes de Gràcia
August is a month in which some neighborhoods of Barcelona celebrate their festivals. Since 1850, on August 15, the Gràcia neighborhood celebrates one of the most popular. For a week, its streets, squares, balconies and doors are decorated with different themes in a contest in which they compete with each other for the first prize. Throughout the day there are activities for the whole family: popular dances, castells, giants and big heads, correfocs, bastoners, trabucaires… and at night the music and the party fill its streets.
September 11th: National day of Catalonia
On September 11, Catalonia celebrates its National Day, the date on which the Bourbon army defeated the Catalans in the War of Succession (1714).
This festival, which began to be commemorated in the 19th century, was revived in 1976 and has become a protest and festive day in which you can participate in both constitutional acts, such as the floral offering to Rafael Casanova (Catalan hero of 1714) in front of his statue, to cultural manifestations such as Castells and concerts. You can visit some buildings such as the Generalitat or the Parliament of Catalonia and many museums are free. The streets and balconies of the city are decorated with the flag.
September 24th: La Mercè
On September 24, the day of the patron saint of the city, the Mare de Déu de la Mercè, is celebrated in BCN. In 1218 he appeared to King James I, Saint Peter Nolasco and Saint Raymond of Penyafort so that they could found an order to rescue Christian prisoners from the Saracens. In 1687 it protected the city from a plague of locusts and in 1868 Pius IX proclaimed it the official patron of Barcelona, displacing Santa Eulalia, who had been it until then.
The party begins on the 23rd in the afternoon with the proclamation from the balcony of the Town Hall and ends with a pyromusical. These days the streets, squares and parks are decorated and filled with tradition, art and music.
Some of the museums host open days.
November 1st: All saints or La Castanyada
It’s a religious tradition where people go to cemeteries to honor their passed loved ones. In Catalunya It is typical to make pastries known as panellets, chestnuts and sweet potatoes, products of the season.
Panellets are a traditional Catalan sweet. They date back to the 18th century, when they were used as blessed food to share after religious celebrations. They are made with a sweet dough made with sugar, raw ground almonds, egg and lemon zest.