Christmas in Catalonia, a marathon not a sprint

Food and family are the key words over the holiday period, when Catalans face two weeks of feasting before they finally get their gifts

Visitors at the 2020 Santa Llúcia Christmas market in Barcelona (by Carola López)
Visitors at the 2020 Santa Llúcia Christmas market in Barcelona (by Carola López) / ACN

Neil Stokes | Barcelona

December 24, 2021 09:15 PM

November 30, 2022 01:10 PM


Anyone who has spent the Christmas holidays in Catalonia will have noticed that they seem to go on forever. Beginning on Christmas Eve, the festivities go through the New Year up to January 6, when the Three Kings bring the big presents and the sales start.

Yet, getting your gifts is still some way off, and first you will have to sit through a gauntlet of long family meals that for many households in Catalonia begins on December 24, which is also when many families celebrate the tradition of the 'Caga Tió' or "poop log".

This log on sticks, with a painted face, wearing a traditional 'barretina' hat, and covered with a blanket is "cared for" by children before Christmas, who when the big moment comes beat it with sticks while singing a traditional ditty imploring the log to "poo" various goodies.

However, this is just the curtain raiser for the big day itself, Christmas Day, which usually sees families coming together for a lunchtime feast that traditionally starts with the tasty meat broth known as 'sopa de galets,' which is made with large pasta shells called 'galets'.

Christmas Day meals tend to last all afternoon, which is just as well given the amount of food to get through. After the broth comes seafood, fish or a roast (or even all three), followed by 'torró' (a type of nougat) and 'neules' (rolled wafers), not to mention plenty of wine and cava.

Boxing Day and beyond

After two days and two big meals already, one's ability to survive further contact with the family is tested on Boxing Day, or Sant Esteve. December 26 is a public holiday, and is when people often go to see the other side of the family and - you guessed it - eat more. 

Sant Esteve is also the day when people tend to consume one of Catalonia's favorite dishes, 'canelons' (cannelloni), which traditionally were made at home using up the leftover meat from the Christmas lunch the day before.

Whether homemade or bought in, the meat-stuffed pasta rolls smothered in bechamel sauce are always a big hit during the festive season, with Catalans eating over four million cannelloni over the Christmas period, according to the Catalonia's butchers' federation.

After three days of non-stop eating you might think it is the ideal time to go on that diet, but the feasting is far from over. New Year's Eve involves more rich food for most people, including gobbling up 12 grapes in time to the striking of the bells at midnight.

While you might be forgiven for waving the white flag by this time, a few days later sees the biggest day of all during Catalonia's festive season, King's Day, on January 6. This is when Catalans exchange gifts, and typically sit down for yet another huge family meal.