Last updated 18 January 2021
Every February, Barcelona shakes off its winter lethargy to celebrate its patron saint, Santa Eulalia (Laia). The Fiestas de Santa Eulalia enlivens the Gothic Quarter with giants, dragons and events in a way which is enchanting for all ages, but its especially special for the children of the city.
While not one of Barcelona's best known festivals, it's definitely one of its best. The magical festival somehow manages to integrate local folklore, Catalan traditions and a modern light festival.
A Llum BCN installation in a courtyard. Enric, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The festival honours Santa Eulàlia, one of Barcelona’s patron saints (the other is Sant Jordi, or St. George). It takes place every year in February to mark the anniversary of her death on 12 February.
The festival is devoted to children as Santa Eulalia was young when she died. Many of the events and performances are interesting and exciting for young people, although some may be a little scary for little ones.
The festival also includes the La Laia photography contest which is open to children only.
When arrested by the Romans who were persecuting Christians in Spain, 13-year-old Eulalia didn’t deny her Christian faith. She was then imprisoned and tortured in 13 different ways. After enduring these horrific acts, she was crucified then beheaded in 303 BCE. The festival is dedicated to children because of her age and bravery.
Barcelona's giant puppets. larry&flo, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
A human tower in Barcelona. Castellers de Barcelona, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The festival includes a wide range of activities and performances, and many of them have their roots in distinctly Catalan traditions. Here are some of the most spectacular:
A parade of giants, eagles and dragons which dance with Laia, the giant representing the saint. The giants are huge historical puppets, kept by the city for this purpose. This parade is common in Catalonian festivals.
The Sardana dance is a beloved Catalan tradition, where people join hands and dance in a circle to a set sequence of steps. The dance is performed at events and celebrations in the region and is thought to have originated in ancient Greece. At this festival, the Sardana is danced on the anniversary of the saint’s death in Sant Jaume Square. it ends with the interpretation of the Santa Eulalia dance.
People dancing the Sardana folk dance. http://www.zeitfenster.de/, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
A staples of the major festivals in Barcelona, this event involves people dressed as devils wandering through the main streets of Barcelona. They dance their way down La Rambla, jumping between fireworks and spraying sparks at the crowds. Occasionally, floats with huge monsters or dragons will be wheeled through the streets, spurting fireworks as they go. It's a fun and exciting spectacle, just be sure to cover your skin and hair, just in case.
The procession continues down the streets in the Gothic Quarter and continues past the Plaça Sant Jaume before concluding in the the Pla de la Seu. Normally, the correfoc is celebrated on the last day of the festival.
A UNESCO recognised tradition, the Castellers involves the formation of human towers. An integral part of many Catalan festivals, with groups of castellers climb on top of each other in an attempt to build the highest "castle".
The Casteller groups are recruited from across Catalonia. At the Santa Eulalia Festival, the human towers are often illuminated, through the Llum Barcelona celebration which runs at the same time.
Running for 10 years, Llum BCN, the city’s festival of light, also honours the Saint Eulàlia and is run at the same time as her festival. Light installations and projections are set up along different trails throughout the city. The light festival features the work of artists, designers and architects from around the world and showcases how light can be used creatively in urban spaces. Each festival feature different artists and installations and last year’s installations focused on transforming the neighbouhood of Poblenou. There are also projections on the Town Hall in Plaça Sant Jaume every night of the festival.
The light projections start daily at 7pm and continues until midnight, except on Sunday, when the festival comes to an end at 11pm.
A Llum BCN light projection onto the Town Hall. Enric, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The Catalan dessert L’aspa de Santa Eulalia (cross of Santa Eulalia) is also a staple of the festival. Inspired by the matyr, it’s a sweet pastry with cherries which is dessert shaped like a cross.