Celebrations and Traditions
Being a new student can be overwhelming at first, especially when you are out of your element. A new school, a new city, a new country, it takes time, patience and an open mind when it comes to handing change and immersing oneself into a foreign environment. At GBSB Global Business School, we embrace diversity, recognizing everyone is from somewhere else. We are all here together, supporting one another and cultivating enriching experiences that will broaden your horizons and shape the person you are still becoming.
There is so much to do during your time studying in Spain, and GBSB Global Business School wants you to take home a well-rounded experience. We are not only interested in your education and ensuing career, but want you to feel you not only studied in Barcelona, but that you lived in Spain.
Of course there will always be similarities and differences when comparing cultures from around the globe. Below is a list of holidays that are celebrated worldwide, but a few that are unique to this region, from Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia. In highlighting these particular holiday celebrations, we hope that you will take an interest in and an appreciation for the new experiences you encounter during your studies in Spain. We want you to embrace this journey with open arms, experiencing everything, both inside and outside the classroom. So that when you return home, wherever that may be, you will take with you not only a degree but the fond memories and unique experiences that came with your international studies in Barcelona, Spain.
06 January, Three Kings Day
(Dia de los Reyes Magos)
Just after the New Year’s ball has dropped, the holiday celebrations continue.
The Three Kings make a personal appearance in many towns around Spain on the eve of Epiphany, accompanied by medieval pomp and circumstance, military bands beating their drums and festive fanfare. One of the most celebrated festivals in Barcelona, children with excited eyes watch the Cabalgata de Reyes, or the Procession of the Kings, as they parade through the city streets on majestic floats, throwing gifts and sweets to the young ones gathered in anticipation.i Festivities typically start around 16:30 on the evening of the 5th when the Three Wise Men arrive by boat to Port Vell. The Mayor greets the regal guests, and the celebrations begin. Epiphany, known to be one of the oldest Christian feasts was actually taken from pagan tradition. It is not just a mere day of celebration but an inauguration of the church season that succeeds.
According to Spanish tradition, children in Spain fill their shoes with straw or grain for the Three Kings’ horses to eat. They place these gifts of feed on their balconies or on the front door step of their homes on the eve of Epiphany. When the children wake from their slumber, they are greeted by shoes overflowing with cookies, candies and small gifts.
On the 6th of January, the Day of Epiphany, families gather for lunch, and at the end of service a special treat is brought forth. Unique to this day, the Roscón de Reyes, a round dessert made from vanilla cake mix, very similar to sponge cake on which crystalized fruits are arranged is served. According to tradition, hidden inside are two surprises, one good and one not so good. The good surprise is usually a small figurine of one of the wise men, and whoever finds this in their piece of cake is said to be lucky and given the King’s golden crown that comes along with the cake. The less fortunate individual to find the not so good surprise, typically a bean, will have to front the cost of the cake. Will you be the lucky one this year?
23 April, Saint George´s Day
(Sant Jordi or Dia de San Jorge)
A festive day known for market stalls full of books. Where flower shops and local organizations set up tables selling individually wrapped roses.
A day set aside to remember. Saint George, a soldier in the Roman Army, known for heroically slaying a dragon in the town Silene in North Africa. As the history is written, this act of sheer bravery saved the life of the princess. Also known as the Day of Aragon in other places around the world. Here in Barcelona, the day is celebrated with a kind heart and a spirit of generosity. In addition to book stalls where woman peruse pages finding the perfect book to present to her gentleman, whether that be her husband, father, brother or son, there are also other literary events. Often authors will take this day to give talks, book signings, or book stores will present readings of classical Spanish or Catalan texts.ii
March, Palm Sunday
The commemoration of Jesus Christ’s glorious entry into Jerusalem, where layman from the crowd of onlookers laid palm branches at Jesus’s feet as he progressed through the city. Palm Sunday takes place one week before Easter, and it signifies the start of holy week.
On this day, during church services, members of the congregation receive palm leaves, later to be hung in homes for good luck, buried to preserve crops or used to decorate tombs and graves.
Big processions still take place in Spain, namely in Seville. These parades portray the passion of Jesus Christ, which refers to Christ Suffering prior to his trial and execution.
23 June, Saint John the Baptist Day
(Nit de Sant Joan)
Festivities start in the evening and go on through the night. Celebrations often do not conclude until rays of sunlight peak over the horizon. On the 24th of June, businesses are closed and public transport is limited to a reduced schedule.
The day itself marks the birth of St. John the Baptist and comes in the wake of the Summer Solstice. A very popular day in the Barcelona calendar year, it really acts as a definitive start to the summer months.
Characterized predominantly by the lighting of bonfires on the beaches and setting off fireworks throughout the city until the wee hours, there is so much going on, it is sometimes overwhelming. Fire runs or correfocs take place on streets throughout various barrios. People dress as the devil and carry pitchforks with fireworks attached, dancing in step to the beat of drums. Other more conservative activities include writing wishes or sins on scraps of paper and setting them ablaze. Other dare devils venture out to dive into the depths, finding any body of water deep enough to make a great splash.
Partying all night, it is common to stay up with a group of friends as the ashes smolder, watching the sunrise in the East. All the while sipping cava and or ratafa, a special alcoholic beverage made of wine, spirits, fresh fruits and herbs made exclusively for this festivity. Locals will also be found munching on pan de coca, a flat bread covered with sweet compote or savory toppings. Chefs often prepare dishes with collected herbs.
11 September, National Day of Catalonia
(Festa Nacional de Catalunya or La Diada)
A day marking the anniversary of the French Bourbon forces recapture of Barcelona.
The defeat of the Catalonians at the Siege of Barcelona on the 11th of September 1714 was a part of the greater War of the Spanish Succession from 1701-1714. This date indicated the start of the French Bourbon rule over the Spanish Autonomous Community of Catalonia. On the 31st of December 1979 the Generalitat de Catalunya was restored to power. Ever since this restoration, September 11th has been designated as a special day representing the painful memories of the freedoms lost in 1714, the defiance of oppression and the hope for a new day where the region would recover from the French rule. The first official holiday was celebrated on the 11th of September 1980.
Events take place all over the city. Organizations and political parties lay flower arrangements and wreaths at monuments for Catalan heroes. Celebrations paying homage to fallen soldiers who defended Barcelona during the War of the Spanish Succession, political rallies, private parties, concerts and even political demonstrations take place throughout the day and into the night. Communal meals take place in various centers throughout the city as well, cooking paella in pans, 4-meters in diameter, in order to feed the masses that gather.iii
End of September, La Mercè Festival
Barcelona’s Largest Street Festival
A five-day festival at the end of September, the dates very year-to-year, held in honor of Mare de Deu de la Merc, the Patron Saint of Barcelona.
The festival’s official start was in the year 1902 and has been celebrated every year since. A celebration bidding adéu to the summer and welcoming in the cooler autumn months.
This is a very lively time to be in the city. Streets are filled with people and animated activity. With over a hundred activities, there is something for everyone. Most notably you will witness the Correfocs again. First making their appearance in June for the night of Saint John the Baptist; they appear in full force as the days get shorter and temperatures start to finally drop. Devils and demons dance around with pitchforks spraying flames into the sky. During these parades a dragon is rolled into the crowd spraying sparklers into the crowd of onlookers.
Oher special activities include: An array of video projection shows choreographed with music displayed on popular landmarks throughout the city. For the whole family, the Gigantes (Giants Parade), a large procession of larger-than-life kings, queens and nobles march through the city streets. Finally, one of the event’s main highlights takes place in Plaça de Jaume. The Castellers make a human tower. A sight not to be missed, but head there early as everyone else has the same idea.iv
12 October, Columbus Day
(Festa Nacional d'Espanya or Dia de la Hispanidad)
Celebrating Spain in the New World
La Fiesta Nacional de España is the Spanish National Holiday. It celebrates the anniversary of Columbus’s arrival to the Americas on the 12th of October 1492. Since 1987, Spain has celebrated the anniversary of Columbus's arrival in the Americas as its Fiesta Nacional or "National Day." As a state holiday, many businesses are closed, and it is typical to spend the day quietly at home or gathering with close friends and family.v
Holidays and festivities in Barcelona are as bright, colorful and diverse as the people that live here. There is no shortage of exciting and entertaining happenings to take part in throughout the year. While you are studying at GBSB Global Business School in Barcelona, make sure to mark your calendar and fit in some time to revel in the city’s rousing holiday scene. Take home memories of a lifetime from your international studies.
By Emily Dawn Szajda, GBSB Content Manager
i 03 November 2014. Three Kings Day Barcelona. irBarcelona. Retrieved from http://irbarcelona.org/christmas-barcelona/three-kings-day
ii, iii, v 2016. Holidays in Spain 2016. timeanddate.com. Retrieved from http://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/spain
iv24 September 2016. La Mercè Festival in Barcelona. Tourist Guide Barcelona. Retrieved from https://www.barcelona-tourist-guide.com/en/events/la-merce/barcelona-la-merce.html