Calçotada season (Between November and April)
If you are a foodie, one of the more interesting events to keep note of in your calendar for February is the Calçotada season. This Catalan spread celebrates the regional gastronomy with a lot of largesse – prepare to be stuffed!. The festival was started by a farmer in Tarragona a century ago and has become a standing event of the calendar. At the meal (the «Calcotada»), the first course is the «calçots», a cross between a leek and a spring onion. These are cooked over hot, wood chippings, then wrapped in newspaper, and finally served on a terra cotta tile. After taking off the outer burnt skin with the bare hands to expose the juicy, tender inside, they are then dipped individually in a romesco sauce made of garlic, red-peppers, almonds, olive oil as its core ingredients. Eating can be messy, hence the bib, an essential requirement if you don´t want to ruin your best shirt. They are washed down with plenty of red wine and cava. This course is followed by lamb or pork chops, and Catalan sausage and white beans. Make sure you work up an appetite before you sit down to a Calçotada – the food is plentiful!
Sant Joan (23rd-24th June)
A midsummer celebration that certainly does not depend on the sun for its light, this firework-filled party has to be one of the biggest parties of the year, with some intense over-indulgence to be expected from one and all. You´ll see everyone from children to grandparents celebrating late in to the night, to mark the longest day of the year. The beach is the place to be for this fiesta, and if you end up there, you´ll probably stay till dawn, watching the fireworks explode in the sky, and eventually experience the sunrise on the horizon of the Mediterranean.
Dia de Sant Jordi (23rd April)
Sant Jordi, or Saint George, as he is referred to in English, was renowned in Catalonia for his dragon-slaying-and-princess-saving ways and this sort of behaviour earned him the title of Patron Saint of Catalonia. To honour his colourful endeavours his festival is one of the most colourful in the city, with the residents turning Las Ramblas, for example, into an overgrown flower stand – the hope being that the gents will buy a rose for their lovely lady. Think of a less commercial Saint Valentine’s day! And, joyfully, there’s equality amongst the sexes here with the women purchasing a book for the men in their lives. This is a newer addition to the Sant Jordi tradition, and was created to commemorate one of the country’s legendary bards, Miguel Cervantes, who died on this date. Shops and famous buildings, like Casa Batlo above, are adorned to mark this special day and often host fantastic exhibitions and events.
Festa Major de Gracia (Mid-August)
Barcelona, like many other cities in the country, have what are called district festivals, and amongst those district festivals you have what is, without doubt, the King of the district festivals. With a strong carnival feel, Festa Major de Gracia is one of the most creative festivals too, with streets competing to the win coveted prize and, in doing so, producing marvels for spectators to feast their eyes upon. Incredible papier mache statues and structures, along with decorative lanterns and unimaginably complex woodwork pieces, turn this barrio (district) into something otherworldly. Every square means an open air concert and of course every little bar turns in to an outdoor festival food and drink stall with beers and nibbles at the ready. Prepare to marvel and party. For those wanting to avoid the heaving masses that night time brings, it is recommended to go on your rambles during the daytime. It’s well worth a visit!
Festa de la Merce (several days either side of 24th September)
This is the main festival of the city of Barcelona which has in origins in an unusual story…the deliverance of Barcelona from a plague of locusts (!) by Our Lady the Virgin of Mercy. Hence the name La Merce – to honour the Virgin the city celebrates in style with plenty of fire, in all its forms, and noise, in all of its forms. Both of these are a mainstay, but certainly on the 24th. A variety of Catalan traditions are enacted throughout this festival and one of the more intriguing to watch (or even participate in for the braver ones) is the Correfoc. The story behind this is that mischievous fire devils need to be ambushed by the townsfolk and banished. Yes, those are people running through the streets with fire in their hands being chased by monstrous creatures!! Come prepared with old clothing and head scarves – those participating in this spectacle are expected to get as close as possible to the evil creatures and even ‘run with the fire.’
You will also get the chance to feast your eyes on the incredible spectacle that is the Castellers or Human Towers – one of Catalonia’s most famous traditions. These are human towers (or «castles») that are made up of different levels of people until reaching insane heights that can reach up to ten stories, although this record has only been achieved three times in total. Each storey is formed without any mechanical help, and tens and even hundreds of people can take part in it. The “castellers” are the people who perform this daring activity, which is over 200 years old, and even young kids (who make up the top tier being lighter in weight) participate. Once at the very top, the child at the very peak makes a hand signal with four fingers in the air (said to symbolize the Catalan flag). He or she will on stay at the dizzy height a short moment and then climb down, as the castle is only considered successful if it dismantled without falling.