Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas in the Catalan Style

Quite different than the West, and a far cry from the Nordic traditions, Christmas in Spain is a very different spectacle. Both in belief and the way things get celebrated, the whole mood is more relaxed, more focused on the fun events. It’s a holiday with a much more Biblical emphasis, and only a mere smidgen of the Norse and Germanic notions incorporated in. Santa, Christmas trees, reindeer, and snowmen just don’t fit the bill, and are only seen in small increments. The North Pole really has nothing to do with the holiday here, and it’s the Three Kings that are the bearers of gifts. The celebration is much longer, beginning on Christmas Eve, Dec 24, and lasting through January 6, on what is known as Epiphany, or Dia de los Reyes. That culminating day is when the gifts arrive. In those two weeks, mass preparations ensue for the holiday, and it is an incredible time to experience all Barcelona can offer with a different mindset than the rest of the year.

While Christmas everywhere holds a great sense of beauty, in the Catalan tradition, artistry is deeply ingrained in all parts of the celebration. The icon of Christmas here is the Nativity, and you can find them everywere, and often highly decorated. While gift-giving is a big part of the holiday, it isn’t the main focus. Christmas is far less commercialized, and not centered on shopping. The simpler pleasures are what most locals look forward to, and there are many to enjoy. Lights are hung in beautiful intricate designs decorating the streets, and people love to amble in awe of them as they eat freshly roasted chestnuts, purchased from street vendors. There are concerts, parades, and the wild Christmas swim, where hundreds of residents and visitors alike go for a splash in the Mediterranean’s wintery water. As for the parade, known as the cabalgata, imagine something of a cross between carnival and a Nativity scene. It is held on January 5th, and marks the arrival of the Three Kings. Their entrance into Barcelona, is a widely celebrated event, drawing in thousands of onlookers as their massive ship sails into the city’s harbor. Upon disembarking, they will be prominently featured in the parade. Other highlights include the fantastic costumes, fun choreography, men on stilts, archers, floats, sculptures with disco balls, and a massive clock carried through the parade, reminding the children bedtime is near!

In line with true traditions, certain dishes are customary during the Christmas and Dia de los Reyes celebrations. If you visit, these are not to be missed! Sopa de galet, canelones, turkey stuffed with truffles, turron, which is a nougat made of almonds, and a massive feast of all varieties of shellfish. On Dia de los Reyes, the final day, expect to eat at Escriba, Barcelona’s highly prized bakery. Hordes of people wait in long lines to take home the celebratory cake, the roscon, which is a confectionary marvel of brioche, marzipan, and studded with candied fruit.

For hotels, these are some of the best spots for optimum luxury in Barcelona: El Palace Hotel Barcelona, Le Meridien Barcelona, Hotel Arts Barcelona, and the Majestic Hotel & Spa Barcelona.

Christmastime may be one of the city’s best-kept secrets. A less Western celebration, with a lot of Mediterranean influence and religion laced in. Culturally and visually it really is gorgeous, the exoticness offers a new way to enjoy the season.

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