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Catalan-style celebrations

The Catalan culture is expressed most strongly during the many folk festivals held in Barcelona. Fireworks light up the night sky so often it seems as if there’s always something to celebrate. Most festivals were originally in honour of the patron saints of Barcelona or Catalonia. Thousands of people take to the streets during processions, either in traditional costumes or with features that recall ancient rituals.

Demonstrations of acrobatic art, human pyramids or towers (castells) are well-known elements of some Catalan festivals. Processions are almost always accompanied by gegants, giant figures made from papier maché. If you’d like to take part yourself you’re welcome to try joining in with the sardana, although this Catalan folk dance is more difficult than it looks.

A parade through Barcelona
A parade through Barcelona


The correfoc during La Mercè

La Mercè: a fiery festival

The La Mercè festival takes place every September and is Barcelona’s biggest street festival. Barcelonans spend almost a week honouring their city’s most important patron saint, Mare de Deu de La Mercè, in the form of parades, music and dance. In this way, Catalans say goodbye to summer and welcome autumn with a bang. Don’t be afraid of the horned demons that run through Barcelona’s streets spouting fire. This is the correfoc, a typical Catalan tradition meant to drive away evil spirits.

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The correfoc is a medieval tradition that literally translated means fire walk. To the rhythm of a Catalan drum, Colles de diables (groups of demons) drive out evil with torches and fireworks, to the rhythm of a Catalan drum. Be prepared, though, as the audience is traditionally blessed with showers of fire. It’s a spectacular event which, due to the noise and fireworks, can be a little scary for some kids. With this in mind, the demons calm down enough in the late afternoon to hold special children’s correfocs.
San Juan Bonfire

The feast of Sant Joan

On 23 June, Catalans celebrate the feast of Sant Joan (Saint John), which begins at sunset. The Nit de Sant Joan is the shortest night of the year and doesn’t involve much sleeping. The Barcelona bonfires attract a lot of attention but the real party takes place on the beaches. Find a good spot in the sand with a picnic basket and a bottle of cava, and look on as hordes of Barcelonans run into the sea. Many people believe that Saint John (the Baptist) endows the seawater with healing powers on this night.

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Barceloneta beach, Barcelona
Red roses for Sant Jordi

Love and literature for Sant Jordi

On 23 April, Catalans celebrate Sant Jordi (Saint George) who, according to legend, slew the dragon on this day and returned to his sweetheart with a rose. By tradition men give their loved one a red rose on this day, to which they respond with the gift of a book. The flowers and books can be bought at one of the hundreds of stalls along La Rambla or the many other streets of Barcelona. It’s one big party; young and old dance the sardana on Plaça de Sant Jaume and poets recite their work in cafés. Whether or not you’re in love, a stroll through Barcelona on this day – which is also World Book Day – is guaranteed to give you the spring jitters.

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Plaça de Sant Jaume, Barcelona