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By Regina W. Bryan in Barcelona—
In Barcelona, and in fact all over Spain, the party seems to go on forever. While there are holidays, long vacations and festivals year-round in Spain, December is an especially merry month offering up nine days of “fiesta” instead of just the 25th and 31st/1st. So merry, it’s scary, one might say….
Not 2, but 9 celebrations
We start off the month with two holidays on the 6th and 8th of December. Since these days fall mid-week, most people take the whole week off and go skiing, or somewhere fun. Despite the economic crisis and 20% unemployment, Barcelona was very quiet last week, meaning people went out of town.
Cheapo Tip #1: Head over to the Santa Llucia Market in front of the Cathedral. While not as “Winter-Wonderland” as say, the Christmas Market in Prague, it’s a fun time all the same. Pick up a “Caga Nen,” or a “Little Shitting Boy” for your nativity scene (€5).
Then folks have a couple weeks to get presents and ingredients together for the 24th, Christmas Eve. This is an important night to spend with family, feasting on tapas or seafood dishes. Depending on the family, some gifts will be exchanged. Don’t expect a lot to be open the 24th in the afternoon and evening, as people will be with relatives.
Book ahead for a sit-down dinner, and make sure to toast with a glass of Catalan cava (like Champagne) wherever you are. If you’re religious, don’t miss Spanish mass at midnight on the 24th.
Cheapo Tip #2: Buy a bottle of Cava (€5.00) and toast with friends at your hotel or on the beach. Go to Christmas Eve Mass at Santa Maria del Mar in the Born if you’re religious.
Then the Christmas Day arrives, and another feast is laid out. Families gather for lunch and chow roasted piglets and turrons, a classic, chewy Spanish dessert that I have never managed to like (the chocolate turron is OK). You can pick up a couple turrons in the Barri Gotic from one of the many artisan food vendors lining the streets the weeks leading up to Christmas. Or, pick one up in the gourmet section of the Corte Ingles in the center of town.
Again, expect a lot to be closed on Christmas. If you’d like to have a nice meal most hotel restaurants should be open and will offer a special set menu. You will want to book ahead or you may find yourself eating “Christmas kebab.” On both the 24th and 25th many people go out at night to party. Some bars will be open, though not as many as a normal weekend.
Cheapo Tip #3: Have Christmas lunch or dinner in La Barceloneta by the Sea at Restaurant Salamanca (€30 and up). Nothing says Christmas like “Paella.” Or splurge and have lunch at Hotel Colon (Av. Catedral 7, Barcelona).
Loosen your belt another notch, because the celebration is not over yet! No sir! The 26th is St. Esteve’s Day and guess what? There’s another feast!
At this point I change into sweatpants (just kidding, I would never wear sweatpants, no matter how bloated Christmas cheer has made me). St. Esteve’s Day is again celebrated with family and revolves around lunch. Traditional families will serve cannelloni stuffed with beef or with spinach and pine nuts.
Again, this is a holiday, so expect a lot to be closed. Bars and restaurants may be open, but little shops and most businesses will be shut up.
Cheapo Tip #4: Head to Cafe Absenta Bar where beers are always €1 to start your night out on the town. Cafe Absenta Bar also serves Absinthe.
Then, slowly, Barcelona wakes from its feasting coma and some people “work” from the 27th to the 31st. By the afternoon of the 31st, everything is closing down again, and people are getting ready for more eating, drinking and maybe a night on the town, too!
New Year’s Eve
Unlike in the United States, New Year’s Eve is spent with family in Barcelona. Everyone sits down to a meal together, and brings in the New Year with twelve grapes and lots of bubbly cava!
At about 12:30 a.m. or 1 a.m. young people head out for a night on the town. Expect hefty covers at all Barcelona’s clubs and long lines for cabs. Most bars are open New Year’s Eve and do not charge a cover. If you’d like to see live music on New Year’s. you’ll want to get those tickets in advance on the net or the day before at the box office. A lot sells out on New Year’s Eve and the city is crowded, but the vibe is fun and festive.
If you want to have a special New Year’s Eve dinner you’ll also want to book ahead as there are not many restaurants open on the 31st, and those that are open tend to charge an arm and a leg. However, most restaurants that open offer a multi-course meal, cava, grapes, and party favors; so you’ll get bang for your buck (€40 p/person and up!). Check the Born area for some nice dining options.
Cheapo Tip 5: Skip the clubs to avoid paying a lot in cover charges. Stick with bars in El Raval and El Born for a fun night out.
New Year’s Day
As the hangover of the 31st wears off you’ll realize that it’s the New Year and that means it’s time to eat and drink some more. Families get together and have a large New Year’s Day lunch more wine, more cava, more food and probably some turrons, too. At this point most people make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight.
And then peace…..until the 5th of January, which is King’s Day Eve. This is when the three magic Kings, or Wise Men, start making their way into Barcelona atop camels and extravagant floats. The King’s Day Parade marks their arrival and takes place on January 5 and is worth checking out. The 6th, a holiday, is when kiddies open up their presents form the Kings. This is the big gift giving day, much more so than Christmas.
And then, thank goodness, it’s over. Nine days of partying comes to an end, and Barcelona goes back to normal for a couple months. Most of us sign up for a gym membership.