Barcelona Bank Holidays
Every year the calendar is dotted with "dies festius" (bank holidays), normally a good excuse for cooking up a traditional dish for the occasion, not to mention a day off work for many!
Most of these bank holidays originate from religious Catholic festivals, but over the years many of these days have become well and truly commercialised, although some of them have retained curious and somewhat surprising traditions.
In Barcelona, as is the case throughout Catalonia any celebration revolves around a table with the tasting of good food and wine. The main meal is normally served at lunchtime (between 2pm and 4pm) and dinner is usually lighter and in most cases served from 9pm onwards, something to take into consideration if you are planning to eat out at a restaurant.
Now find out more about the different "dies festius" in Barcelona.
1. New Years Day
After heavy partying and celebrations on New Year’s Eve, New Year’s day is normally a day spent relaxing and having a meal with the family, not forgetting of course all those New Year resolutions that have to be made!
In the afternoon of the 5th January all the villages and towns organise "cabalgates" (processions) to welcome the arrival of the three kings, who have been known to arrive by land (sometimes on camels), sea or air!
The night of 5th January is the night which, according to the Catholic religion, the three kings went to visit baby Jesus bearing him gifts. Tradition has therefore converted this night into a truly magical experience for children. After leaving something to eat and drink for the camels, Catalan children go to bed early to awake early in the morning to open their presents.
The 6th January is a day usually spent with the family exchanging presents brought by the three kings. At lunch time a "tortell de reis" is usually eaten after dessert, a sweet circular-shaped pastry adorned with candied fruit. Inside the "tortell de reis" is the china figure of a king, meaning that the person who finds it should be crowned king for the day! It also contains a dried bean, meaning that the person who has the misfortune to find it will have to pay for the "tortell de reis" the next year.
Easter Friday and Easter Monday
Easter falls during these months and is a time of religious celebration. In Barcelona and throughout Catalonia, bank holidays fall on Good Friday and Easter Monday.
Religious traditions still prevail nowadays and many processions are held throughout the villages and towns around Catalonia
. Of particular note is the very unique and curious "Dansa de la Mort" (death dance), held every year in the village of Verges.
What would be Easter without something sweet? The "Mona de Pasqua" is also of Catholic origin and tradition dictates that godfathers normally give this cake to their godsons or goddaughters on Easter Monday. The "Mona de Pasqua" was originally in the form of a nest with chicks inside, but over the years it has evolved to become a real work of art.
The high quality of the ingredients (normally chocolate), and the inspiration and effort that bakers go to produce these fantastic creations, has meant that the "Mona de Pasqua" can be very expensive, but well worth the treat. You can even see bakery windows displaying "Mones" sculpted into cartoon characters or Barça football players!
The 23rd April (Sant Jordi – St George) is actually NOT marked as a bank holiday on the calendar, but it is celebrated all over Barcelona and Catalonia. On this day it is traditional for a man to give a woman a red rose as a sign of his love, whereas a woman usually gives a man a book. For the Catalans this day is more important than the more commercial and universally-known St. Valentine’s Day. On Sant Jordi Day crowded village and town streets are lined with stalls piled high with books for sale and buckets brimming with roses.
The roses were traditionally red, but over the years other colours have been introduced depending on the degree of love or friendship, although red definitely continues to be the colour of true love!
Most of all, Sant Jordi is a day of much Catalan patriotism and a multitude of striking red and yellow striped Catalan flags can be seen draped over balconies.
1. Labour Day
Labour Day on 1st May is sometimes a day of trade union demonstrations, but these are normally held in larger cities and are generally peaceful. On this bank holiday the Catalans normally take time out for leisure activities or to rest.
24. Sant Joan
A very popular "festa" in Barcelona is the night of Sant Joan (St. John) on 23rd June. This is a pagan festival to welcome in the summer and spectacular bonfires, fireworks, loud bangers and music echo through the city as well as the villages and towns all over Catalonia. The next day (24th June) is a bank holiday, so the night is long and very noisy!
Dinner on the night of 23rd June normally comprises the most representative culinary specialities from the region: "pa amb tomàquet" (slices of bread rubbed with ripe tomatoes and drizzled with olive oil) with ham, cheese and cold meats.
Dessert is usually a "coca", traditionally a long cake sprinkled with pine nuts or candied fruit, but there are also more modern varieties filled with cream, chocolate or sweet pumpkin filling. All this is washed down with a glass of "cava", an essential drink for the evening.
Despite also being of Catholic origin, the 15th August has become a good excuse to prolong the summer holidays. For many years August was a month when almost everyone in Barcelona and Catalonia went on holiday, leaving the large towns and the city deserted, but the villages and coast full of holidaymakers.
This tradition has now changed and, except for small or family-run businesses, most people take their summer holidays during the months of June to September.
11. National Catalonia Day
The National Day of Catalonia on the 11th September is known as "La Diada" and commemorates the Siege of Barcelona defeat on 11 September 1714 during the War of the Spanish Succession, when Catalonia ceased to become a sovereign nation, losing its national freedom, its own laws as a country and suffered the oppression of the Catalan language and culture.
On this day there are many demonstrations and the Catalan flag "la Senyera" can be seen hung from buildings everywhere and even on buses!
24. La Mercè
On that day it is only bank holiday in Barcelona city
, La Mercè is the celebration of Barcelona's patroness ‘La Mare de Deu de la Merc
è’ (The Lady of Mercy). Long established as one of Barcelona’s biggest and arguably best annual festivals, La Mercé lasts for an entire week with many different cultural events taking place! As well as paying homage to the Lady of Mercy, La Mercè also signals the end of summer as the autumnal months roll in. The list of attractions on offer at La Mercè festival are seemingly innumerable with music, film, food, dancing, sport and many other things being celebrated simultaneously. The streets are packed out and spirits are sky high for this magical experience. On the last night of La Mercè be sure to head towards Montjuïc
and Plaça Espanya to witness the incredible firework finale.
12. National Spain Day
On the 12th October, or "Dia de la Hispanidad", Spain celebrates the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus on his expedition supported and financed by the Catholic Monarchs (Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon) in 1492.
1. All Saints Day
The 1st November, or All Saint’s Day, is a religious festival. Many people flock to cemeteries to take flowers and pray for and remember their deceased loved ones.
Like Halloween, the origins of All Hallow’s Eve lie in a ritual of the dead and this night is celebrated in Barcelona and throughout Catalonia with "La Castanyada", consisting of a meal of chestnuts, sweet potato, preserved fruits, "moscatell" (a sweet wine) and "panellets" (irresistible little cakes, made out of sweet potato, ground almonds and sugar).
The most traditional variety of "panellet" are round and sprinkled with pine nuts, although nowadays they can be found in many different shapes and flavours. In the weeks surrounding this celebration, street stalls sell hot chestnuts wrapped in newspaper, traditionally used for warming up hands in the cold winter months.
6. Constitution Day
With Christmas just round the corner, Spaniards celebrate the 6th December as the day on which the Spanish Constitution was signed, putting an end to Franco’s dictatorship and opening the doors to Spain as a democracy.
8. Immaculate Conception
The 8th December is a Catholic festival, the day of Mary’s Immaculate Conception of Jesus.
With these two dates so close together, many people decide to also take a holiday on 7th December, making it a good opportunity for a mini-break to the mountains for a bit of skiing.
25. Christmas Day and 26. Sant Esteve
The 25th and 26th December are religious bank holidays in Barcelona and indeed throughout Catalonia, celebrating the birth of Jesus on the 25th and St. Stephen’s Day on 26th December.
In Catalonia, traditional Christmas decorations include a large nativity scene, called a "pessebre". The "caganer" (a little porcelain character wearing a red hat, the "barretina", who is defecating) is a very popular feature of a "pessebre" and dates back from the late 17th century-early 18th century.
Another curious character in Catalan Christmas tradition is the "tió", a log with a face painted on it which magically spills out sweets when beaten with sticks by children.
All these somewhat strange traditions can be seen at the many Christmas markets held in Barcelona as well as in all villages and towns of Catalonia.
The most important meal over the Christmas period is normally lunch on Christmas Day. Traditional food would be a "sopa de galets" (a clear soup with pasta shells) and the "carn d’olla", (a slow-cooked stew of meat, vegetables and beans). Traditionally, the left-over meat from the "carn d’olla" was minced to make cannelloni for the next day.
A tasty, albeit high-calorie dessert over the Christmas period would be "turró", a type of nougat made out of honey, sugar and almonds. This delicious confection is said to be of Arab origin. Nowadays, there are many flavours, the most common being "Xixona" (soft and sticky) and "Alicant" (a brittle block of hard almonds).
December is definitely not a month to think about losing weight, but a month of trying different traditional culinary delights in the company of family and friends.