Christmas on the Balearic Islands

Christmas with a difference

Christmas with a difference combines culture with traditional food and drink and is enjoyed to the full. And that’s the type of Christmas waiting to be discovered on the Balearic Islands. Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera all offer a wide variety of traditions, customs and sensations that you should experience at least once in your lifetime.

As the Christmas spirit floods the city with the switching on of the lights, Christmas festivities get underway in Palma with its streets forming a charming nativity-scene route. This traditional route takes in a series of displays of hand-crafted nativity scenes, showcasing a vast array of styles and a wealth of detail. These nativity scenes can be seen in several institutions, convents, churches and cultural centres. Some of the most iconic can be found in the Convent of the Capuchin Nuns, Palma City Hall, March Palace and the Church of St Mary Magdalene. Alongside the customary depictions of the manger and the arrival of the Three Kings, many show scenes that are specific to the island, such as the Cant de la Sibil·la.

There’s nothing ordinary about the Cant de la Sibil·la (Chant of the Sybil) as it’s a poignant medieval chant that sends shivers down your spine. Forming the central focus of the Matins (midnight mass) on 24 December, this Christmas spectacle can be experienced in almost every town in Mallorca and attracts large audiences in Mallorca Cathedral and the Santuari de Lluc Monastery.

Due to its mix of popular tradition and devotional music, the Cant de la Sibil·la was declared a Spanish Intangible Asset of Cultural Interest, and a Masterpiece of Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2010. This highly emotive spectacle, introduced to Mallorca following the conquest of King John I, prophesies the coming of the Redeemer and the final judgment in a chant in Latin, which since the 13th century has also been sung in Catalan.

The performance is given by a singer selected for their angelic voice, solo and a cappella, except for the musical interludes between verses, with the singer dressed in a white tunic and embroidered cape, carrying a sword held in front of their face throughout the song.

Mallorca in December: the tourist guide

Another unmissable part of any visit is a stroll through the old town of Palma, where history and tradition merge and you can try a taste of the island's Christmas specialities. From the Santa Clara convent to the city’s oldest establishments, you can taste, enjoy and treat your families and friends to traditional yuletide confectionery. There are various types of artisan turrón (nougat), corazones de San Francisco, peix de pasta reial, coconut sweets and cinnamon biscuits to try along the route and to be found on Majorcan tables. During traditional Christmas meals, sopa rellena and suckling pig grace the table at family gatherings.

As a farewell to the year, nothing can beat going out into the brightly lit streets of Palma to enjoy New Year's Eve with your loved ones and exchange good wishes for the coming year. You can eat the traditional new year grapes to the sound of the bells at the Plaza de Cort and the Paseo del Borne, and welcome in the new year with good music. And more music can be enjoyed at the concert given by the Balearic Islands Symphony Orchestra to celebrate the new year, inspired by the famous New Year’s concert in Vienna.

Christmas in Menorca is heralded by four traditional characters known as the llumets, magical elves which, according to legend, live on the little island of Colom, in the waters of Mahón. The llumets mark the beginning of the Christmas holidays when they come to turn on the illuminations that light up the streets and squares. Spectators arrive each year in the Plaza de la Constitución in Mahón to gaze up at the facade of the Church of Santa Maria, waiting for the llumets to emerge from the bell tower and lower themselves down by rope, greeting the people and showering them with sweets.

But the elves’ mission does not end here, because they must also bring the festivities to an end by turning off the Christmas lights after 6 January (Día de Reyes). As soon as they wish the Minorcans goodbye, they return to the island of Colom until the following Christmas.

Visiting the Christmas markets and fairs is a delightful way to enjoy the holidays, strolling between the stalls selling handicrafts, traditional food, souvenirs and local confectionery such as cuscussó, a dessert of Arab origin, pastissets, pastries made in the shape of a five-petalled flower, and amargos, sweets made from almonds.

The nativity scene exhibitions are also a famous Christmas tradition in Menorca, displaying nativity scenes to delight all visitors. In Ciutadella, you can see the nativity scene made by the nuns from the Santa Clara monastery, who year after year surprise and enchant visitors with their spectacular exhibition. Other traditional nativity scenes can be seen in the parish churches of Mare de Deu del Carme, in Mahón, Santa Eulalia de Alaior and Sant Bartomeu in Ferreries.

Another unmissable event is the New Year’s Eve fiesta. On Sunday 31 December, come and welcome in the new year to the sound of the traditional bells in the Plaza de la Constitución in Mahón.

Menorca in December: the tourist guide

If you think Ibiza is amazing during the summer, winter has even more to offer! At Christmas, Ibiza is the ideal destination for anyone who wants to spend a few days crammed full with events, traditions and culture.
On the subject of music, we should give a special mention to the Christmas Caramelles, declared a National Cultural Heritage event in 2005, as the embodiment of the traditional singing of Ibiza and Formentera. The Caramelles tell the story of the birth of Christ in the form of a song, accompanied by iconic  and traditional instruments from the two islands: the flute, the castanets, the espasí and the drum.

Music can always be heard during the Christmas period. Christmas concerts are given by the Music School of Ibiza and by the Choir of the City of Ibiza. Meanwhile, the city’s Wind Ensemble always performs a special repertoire over the holiday period.

During the early evening, a visit to the exhibitions of nativity scenes is a good starting point for anyone wishing to explore Ibiza’s Christmas traditions. The parish churches of Santa Creu, Sant Pau and Sant Elm are good places to see some fine examples of local nativity scenes.

On the other hand, if you would rather sample a traditional local dish, try the island’s special Christmas sauce called Salsa de Nadal. Similar to traditional turron, it’s made with very characteristic ingredients, almond paste, sugar, spices and meat broth, with an intense but delicious flavour. This is a symbolic dish at this time of year, usually enjoyed with dessert, but which can also appear on the breakfast menu.

Ibiza in December: the tourist guide

Formentera, the miniature paradise of the Balearic archipelago, makes an idyllic place to spend the Christmas holidays. Each year, it offers a very special programme of events to enjoy with all the family. Following local custom, the opening of the traditional Christmas Market will take place in the pedestrian area of the Plaza de la Constitución, with many local shops and companies putting up stalls offering a wide variety of articles.

This market is open every day from the end of November to 6 January, and it offers concerts and workshops for all ages. For small children,  there are activities and games and a concert of popular carols (nadales).

On Christmas Eve, Matines (midnight mass) is held in the island’s churches, including Sant Francesc, Sant Ferrán and La Mola, where the iconic Caramelles can be heard, the traditional Christmas music of Ibiza and Formentera, performed by male singers with instrumental accompaniment and declared a National Cultural Heritage event. They can also be enjoyed on 25 and 26 December.

Another unmissable tradition is gathering together with friends and family around the table to enjoy the traditional Christmas dinner, with the spotlight firmly on the centrepiece dish, Bullit de Nadal, made with belly pork, poultry or pork. Leftover broth is used in the famous Christmas sauce or Mossona, a mainstay of yuletide starters and desserts.

Formentera in December: the tourist guide

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