Mercats of Magic: Barcelona’s Christmas Markets

Imagine a market devoted exclusively to Christmas, draped in Christmas lights and pulsing with the good cheer of arguably Spain’s most festive season.

Imagine no longer.
Each year at the end of November, the Barcelona Cathedral plaza and the park in front of Sagrada Familia take their normally busy open spaces to the next level. Rows and rows of paradas, or stalls, are set up in each of these public spaces.

One of the many stalls at the Barcelona Christmas Market.

Within each stall is the heartbeat of Barcelona’s Christmas joy.
These two areas are what are known as Barcelona’s Christmas markets. The bustling yuletide epicenters are home to countless stalls crammed with all sorts of traditional Catalan holiday decorations, as well as a section devoted to local artisans who are more than happy to help you find the perfect gift for your family, friends or special someone.
There are three Christmas markets in Barcelona, though the first two in the following list are the most popular and most well-known: the Feria de Santa Llúcia in front of the Barcelona Cathedral, the Feria de la Sagrada Familia and the lesser-known Feria de Reis de la Gran Via near Plaza Espanya.

The Catalan Christmas Shacks

If you’re looking for a crash course in Catalan Christmas culture, browse the vendors at the Christmas markets. What you’ll probably notice first are the myriad of rows of figurines squatting with their trousers to ground as they flash a smirk as mischievous as a five-year-old trying to pry open a Christmas present before the big day.

Caganers

These little figurines are called caganers (literally “poopers) and they and the little mound of poop they perpetually leave behind are as much a part of the Catalan nativity scene as Jesus himself. Really.

If you want to know more about these, you can read about them in a recent post we wrote called “Christmas in Barcelona: Magical Markets, Fecal Figurines, Generous Logs and More”.

If you’re looking to give someone a souvenir from Barcelona, few gifts are as culturally accurate and relevant as a caganer

Cagatíos

You’ll also notice a plethora of happy-faced, two-legged logs. These wacky wooden characters are also part of Catalan Christmas traditions. Name cagatío, these generous logs are the source of what Americans know as “stocking stuffers”.

Children cap off Christmas Day (or Christmas Eve, depending on family tradition) by battering old cagatío with a stick until the stubborn log “poops” out candy and other little treasures. The aforementioned link above has a nice little video of the song kids traditionally sing as they pummel the log.

Cagatios are a popular item at the Barcelona Christmas Market

Nativity Scenes and Decorations

Though seemingly filled with caca, Catalan Christmas also respects more formal traditions. Most houses have a nativity scene depicting the birth of Christ.

You’ll see dozens of stalls at the Christmas markets solely devoted to nativity scene. Handmade stables and handmade figures are plentiful and they come in, as the old saying goes, all shapes and sizes. Other decorations are on display at the Christmas fare as well.

Caganers and other nativity figures at the Barcelona Christmas market.

Christmas Trees

Lost in the glittering madness that is Barcelona’s trio of Christmas markets are the staid, simple poses of evergreen trees who hope to impress their admirers enough to end up in the home of a local family, dressed in beautiful decorations and festive lights.

The markets are the place to go to buy a Christmas tree. They come in varying heights and styles, with each tree commanding its own price.

Trees are bought at the stalls, netted by the vendor and then are hauled home — either by foot, car, or public transportation — to brighten the living rooms of Barcelona’s residents.

Christmas trees at the Barcelona Christmas Market.

Other Awesomeness

The markets are home to more than just the average and not-so-average Christmas decorations. Chances are a trip the Christmas Market will, at some point, result in your taste buds drowning themselves in the delight of any number of Christmas snacks.

The culprits of these moments of mouthwatering delight are usually three: chestnuts (which are literally roasted on an open fire), sweet potatoes slowly cooked over coals and Nutella-filled churros, crepes and the like from a churreria truck.

A batch of chestnuts roasting over an open fire, Barcelona Christmas Market

Also, Christmas’ transformative power also plies its playful trade in Plaza Catalunya, where the famous square is converted into the home of an ice skating rink. 

Christmas Market Schedules

Barcelona Cathedral Christmas Market

The Cathedral market is open from 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday and from 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday. The market’s last day is December 23.

A bright sign over the Barcelona Christmas Market at the Barcelona Cathedral.

Sagrada Familia Christmas Market

The Sagrada Familia market is open from daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The market’s last day is Dec. 23.

Gran Via Christmas Market

The Gran Via market is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. The market’s last day is Jan. 6.

Plaza Catalunya Ice-Skating Rink

The Plaza Catalunya skating rink is open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. with an extended closing time of 11 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and holidays. The rink is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. The rink is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Christmas Day.

Christmas market photo credit: Ajuntament Barcelona, Flickr Creative Commons

Feria de Santa Llucia market photo credit: Valerie Hinojosa, Flick Creative Commons
Cagatío photo credit: Ajuntament Barcelona, Flickr Creative Commons
Christmas trees photo credit: denAsuncioner, Flickr Creative Commons
Caganers/Nativity photo credit: Jesús Corrius, Flickr Creative Commons
Chestnuts photo credit: nesimoFlickr Creative Commons

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