“Gràcia! Arriba! Carnaval ja ha arribat! Gràcia! Arriba! Carnaval ja ha arribat!” That’s how I was rudely awoken from my Saturday afternoon siesta – shouts from the start of the Carnaval parade in the street below.
“Gràcia! Get up! Carnaval has arrived!” is what the Catalan chant translates to, and it certainly made me get up. From my apartment’s little Juliet balcony, the street below was filled with excited spectators watching the slowly approaching parade floats make their way down the street.
Gràcia is a little neighborhood in Barcelona; actually, it’s my personal favorite little neighborhood, and the one I chose to live in when I had to change apartments. It used to be a separate village until the city grew so big it swallowed it up.
Today, it’s not quite part of the city center, but it’s so close to it that it just grazes the top edges of the most central part. Having said that, Gràcia still maintains some qualities that are very much like the little village it used to be.
You’ll hear residents saying they’re going “down to Barcelona”, as if it were still a different city. If you meet someone from Barcelona who grew up in Gràcia, they may let you know they’re from Gràcia, not Barcelona. Once people move to Gràcia, it can be tricky to get them to leave the neighborhood (present company included!).
There’s a local market that feels very much like a tiny town market, and residents in the streets and shops happily greet each other, making it clear that they’ve known each other for years. You have to pay attention as you walk along the tiny sidewalks, as the people walking in front of you may suddenly stop to have a conversation with somebody they run into.
But you can really feel the village atmosphere at celebrations, which are often kept to the barri only; the parades and parties never bleed over into the next neighborhood. Barri isn’t a typo, by the way – it’s Catalan for neighborhood, and Gràcia loves to celebrate all kinds of Catalan festivals and parties. From castellers to correfocs, if you want to see a traditional celebration here, it’s probably only a matter of time.
You can tell that a festival is coming your way in Gràcia because it’s usually preceded by extremely loud noises. It’s not a proper festival here until somebody starts banging a drum, setting off fireworks, or playing music at top volume…or ideally, a combination of all three.
Subtlety is decidedly not an element of these kinds of traditional celebrations. If you’re in the neighborhood, you might as well go downstairs and join in the fun, because you won’t be able to do much else with the racket going on outside.
Whether it’s because the fiestas are impossible to ignore or just because locals love a good time, everyone turns out for the festivals, from the tiniest babies to the wrinkliest abuelos. It doesn’t really matter much what kind of festival it is; you’ll see people of all ages out and enjoying it. Even at a midnight punk concert, there’ll be a toddler or two on hand rocking out with the crowd.
Although the festivals can be a figurative headache (and can definitely cause a literal one) when you have things to be doing, they’re actually one of the loveliest parts of living in Gràcia. You can really see how they’ve conserved lots of very traditional elements in a completely modern setting, and the mixture works perfectly.
One tradition that hasn’t changed over the years is the love for getting a big group of friends, family, and neighbors together to celebrate the big calendar days of the year. That might be a calçot barbecue in the springtime, where everyone drags tables and chairs down into the street to eat together.
Or maybe it’s a display of the strongest and tallest casteller towers on a sunny fall afternoon. And of course, the highlight of all of Gràcia’s neighborhood parties is the Festa Major de Gràcia, a week-long wild celebration in the middle of the August heat.
And that fantastic sense of community is the thing that Gràcia’s strictly Catalan traditions share with a lot of my favorite celebrations in other regions of Spain. Even though the ways and reasons each region celebrates are different, most of the major festivals are all about enjoying them with your favorite people – and what could be better than that?