Big festivals and major events in Barcelona: Critics' Choice

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Fira de Santa Llúcia

Where: Pla de la Seu & Avda de la Catedral
When: 2-23 Dec
Tel & website: 93 402 70 00/w2.bcn.cat/nadal/en
Dating from 1786, this traditional Christmas fair has expanded to more than 300 stalls, selling all manner of handcrafted Christmas decorations and gifts, along with mistletoe, poinsettias and Christmas trees. The most popular figure on sale for Nativity scenes is the curious Catalan figure of the caganer (crapper), a small figure crouching over a steaming turd with his trousers around his ankles. Kids line up for a go on the giant caga tió, a huge, smiley-faced ‘shitting log’ that poops out pressies upon being beaten viciously by a stick; smaller versions are on sale at the stalls. There’s also a Nativity scene contest, musical parades and exhibitions, including the popular life-size Nativity scene in Plaça Sant Jaume.

Cavalcada dels Reis

Where: various venues
When: 5 Jan, 5-9pm
Website: w2.bcn.cat/nadal/en
Epiphany is the big Christmas event here, and is marked by the Kings’ Parade. Melchior, Gaspar and Balthasar arrive aboard the Santa Eulàlia boat at the bottom of La Rambla before beginning a grand parade around town with a retinue of acrobats, circus clowns and child elves. The route is published in the newspapers, but normally starts at the lower entrance of Ciutadella, running up C/Marquès de l’Argentera and Via Laietana. Later that night, children leave their shoes out on the balcony stuffed with hay for the kings’ camels; in the morning, they’re either full of presents or edible sugar coal depending on their behaviour the previous year. The following day is a holiday.

Festa dels Tres Tombs

Where: Sant Antoni
When: Around 17 Jan
St Anthony’s day, naturally enough, also marks the festa major of the district; all the usual ingredients of music, and gegants here include a monstrous, symbolic fire-breathing pig – the form the devil took when tempting the saint. Anthony is patron saint of animals and on his feast day it’s still the custom to bring pets to the church of St Anthony to be blessed. Afterwards, horsemen ride three circuits (tres tombs) in a formal procession from Ronda Sant Antoni, through Plaça Catalunya, down La Rambla and along C/Nou de la Rambla.

Santa Eulàlia

Where: all over Barcelona
When: Around 12 Feb
The city’s blowout winter festival is in honour of Santa Eulàlia (Laia), who met her end at the hands of the Romans after enduring terrible tortures. Barcelona’s co-patron saint, she is a special favourite of children. Her feast day on 12 February kicks off with a ceremony in Plaça Sant Jaume, followed by music, sardanes and parades, with Masses and children’s choral concerts held in the churches and cathedral. In the evening, the female giants gather in Plaça Sant Josep Oriol, then go to throw flowers on the Baixada de Santa Eulàlia before a final boogie in the Plaça Sant Jaume. The Ajuntament and the cathedral crypt (where she’s buried) are free and open to the public, as are more than 30 museums. The festival closes on Sunday evening with correfocs (for adults and children) centred around the cathedral. 

Feria de Abril de Catalunya

Where: Fòrum area
When: late Apr/early May
Website: www.fecac.com
A pale imitation of Seville’s grand Feria de Abril, this week-long, sprawling and joyously tacky event is still a whole heap of fun, especially for fans of fried squid and candyfloss. The rows of decorated marquees are a sea of polka dots, as young and old twirl on and off the stages, and onlookers glug manzanilla sherry and scarf some of the greasiest food imaginable. It’s great for children, and there’s a funfair.

L’Ou Com Balla

Where: Ateneu Barcelonès, C/Canuda 6; Casa de l’Ardiaca, C/Santa Llúcia 1; Cathedral cloisters; Museu Frederic Marès; all in Barri Gòtic
When: early June
Tel & website: Institut de Cultura 93 301 77 75/www.bcn.cat/icub
L’Ou Com Balla (the ‘dancing egg’) is a local Corpus Christi tradition dating from 1637: a hollowed-out eggshell is set spinning and bobbing in apparent perpetuum mobile on the spout of various fountains garlanded for the occasion with flowers. The Sunday Corpus Christi procession leaves from the cathedral in the early evening; on the Saturday, there’s free entry to the Ajuntament, the Palau Centelles behind it and the Museu d’Història de Barcelona, along with sardanes (circle dances) at 7pm outside the cathedral.

Sant Joan

Where: all over Barcelona
When: night of 23 June
In the weeks leading up to the feast of St John, the streets become a terrifying war zone of firecrackers and cowering dogs. This is mere limbering up for the main event – on the night of 23 June there are bonfires and firework displays all over the city, but especially the beach, running until dawn. Cava is the traditional tipple, and piles of coca – flat, crispy bread topped with candied fruit – are consumed. Special metro and FGC trains run all night and the 24th is a much-needed holiday.

Festival del Grec

Where: various venues
When: late June-early Aug
Tel & website: 93 316 10 00/www.bcn.cat/grec
Named after the Greek amphitheatre (Teatre Grec) that forms such an integral part of its programming, this is the major cultural festival of the year. It brings together dozens of shows from around the world, encompassing dance, music, theatre and circus. Increasingly there are performances in English, with Catalan surtitles.

Música als Parcs

Where: various venues
When: June-Aug
Tel & website: 93 413 24 00/www.bcn.cat/parcsijardins
This series of free, alfresco concerts runs throughout the summer months in some of Barcelona’s loveliest parks. It comprises two cycles; jazz from June to August on Wednesdays and Fridays at 10pm in Ciutadella park in front of the fountain and, in July, young musicians perform a varied classical concert programme from Thursday to Saturday in various parks. A new introduction in 2008 was the municipal band, who boost the programme on occasional Thursdays with crowd pleasers from Gershwin, West Side Story and the like.

Festa Major de Gràcia

Where: all over Gràcia
When: 3rd wk in Aug
Tel & website: 93 459 30 80/www.festamajordegracia.cat
The main event at Gràcia’s extravagant festa major is its street competition, where residents transform some 25 streets into pirate ships, rainforests and Jurassic landscapes. The festival opens with giants and castles in Plaça Rius i Taulet, and climaxes with a correfoc and a castell de focs (castle of fireworks). In between, there are some 600 activities, from concerts to sardanes and bouncy castles. Recent years have been marred by vandalism and late-night scuffles with the police.

Festival Asia

Where: various venues
When: 2wks in Sept
Website: www.casaasia.es/festival
This week of twirling saris, Chinese acrobats, music, workshops and stalls from 17 Asian countries, has expanded from its base at the Mercat de les Flors to take in a number of venues, but mostly in the Parc de la Ciutadella. The festival now runs with the Festes de la Mercè; see below.

Festes de la Mercè

Where: all over Barcelona
When: week of 24 Sept
Website: www.bcn.cat/merce
This week-long event in honour of the patron saint of the city, Our Lady of Mercy, opens with giants, dragons and capgrosses in the Plaça Sant Jaume. It’s followed by more than 600 events including sardanes and correfocs (a tamer version for children, followed by the biggest and wildest of the year on the Saturday night). Other highlights include dazzling fireworks displays, free concerts, a seafront air show, sporting events including a swim across the port and a regatta, and a heap of activities for children. The pressure on the centre has been eased of late: many events are now staged up at Montjuïc castle or in the former textile factory, Fabra i Coats, in Sant Andreu. Even so, around 100,000 people descend on the Barri Gòtic to watch the final parade.




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