Catalan Christmas Traditions
They are as crazy and creative as they come!
Now that the weather is getting colder and we’re putting on our jumpers and scarves, you may have noticed there’s a feeling of magic in the air. And we all know why- Christmas is just around the corner! Whilst in anglophone countries our Christmas traditions revolve around setting up the Christmas tree and waiting for Santa Claus, Christmas traditions vary massively around the world and in Catalonia it is no different. In fact, they have some of the most unique in the world! So to get you into the Christmas spirit, we thought we’d write this article to help you learn everything you need to know to have a proper Catalan Christmas!
Every 8th of December, on Immaculate Conception Day, Catalan families set up their Tió de Nadal or better known as Caga Tió (literally meaning ‘shit log’). What is it exactly? Well, it’s a log decorated with a smile, a red hat and a pair of legs. The tradition is to take great care of it by covering it with a blanket to keep it warm and ‘feeding’ it every day until Christmas.
On Christmas Eve, the children beat it with a stick and ask it to defecate presents and sweet treats whilst singing. Here is an example of a song:
Head to Avinguda de la Catedral near the gothic cathedral to see a giant one!
Catalans have a peculiar fascination with faeces as you might have already noticed with the previous tradition. Well, hold tight as there’s more on the way with the Caganer! The tradition of the shitting one (literal translation, sorry…) dates back from the 17th or 18th century and has various appearances now. The figurine is hidden in the Nativity Scene and children have to find it.
It usually consists of a porcelain figurine of a man with a traditional peasant outfit. The character has its bum out and enjoys a pure, relaxing, natural moment (pooing in case you weren’t sure). You can now find politicians, football players and many famous real and fictional characters depicted as the Caganer. New ones appear every year and can include anyone from Rosalía and Greta Thunberg to Boris Johnson and Queen Elizabeth II. If you want an extra Catalan Caganer, you can even find Caga Tió (the shit log) taking a dump himself.
The Caganer isn’t just a funny character to giggle at, but actually has the symbolic meaning of bringing prosperity and good fortune throughout the year. It’s in no way seen as offensive, although it may be shocking when you see it for the first time in a shop window or at the Christmas markets.
Like many people around the world, Catalans set up a nativity scene at Christmas. It is pretty similar to most nativity scenes with all the traditional figures, as well as the Caganer, who will be hidden somewhere in the scene. However, it is also popular to recreate, not just the stable, but the entire town of Bethlehem as it was 2,000 years ago. Elaborate scenes are set up with windmills, traditional homes, figures of towns people, farm animals, caves, rivers and real moss for grass. All sorts of tiny additional details, such as baskets of bread and campfires, can also be bought. If you are looking to expand your nativity scene, head to the Christmas markets, such as the Fira de Santa Llúcia at the Cathedral of Barcelona or the Fira de Nadal at the Sagrada Familia, where entire stalls are dedicated to selling these beautiful additions.
In Catalonia they also enjoy live nativity scenes, which are, as you would assume, nativity scenes performed by real people. You can see a programme of where and when they will be taking place here.
Carassa de Nadal
This figure may look a little unsettling at first but children in Catalonia actually love him! The Carassa de Nadal, or Christmas Big Face, attends parades during the festive period and spits sweets from his gaping mouth, moving around on wheels and wiggling his eyes.
This tradition is a reinterpretation of a centuries old custom in which a carassa was placed under the organ in Catalan churches. It would behave in a similar way to the modern Carassa de Nadal as the organist would wiggle its eyes and throw sweets out of its mouth for the children at Christmas, who would excitedly collect them. However, it was outlawed in the mid-20th Century for being disruptive in church and xenophobic as it depicted a decapitated Saracen. However, it was bought back in its current form in 1988 as part of a revival of Catalan customs.
Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day
Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day (26th of December) are three key dates to celebrate in Catalonia. Families usually get together, mostly at home, and savour large, traditional meals accompanied by Christmas carols.
Food wise, Catalonia has various specialities that will make you gain some kilos – only good of course! On Christmas Eve, Catalans eat typical food that most families would also eat around the country such as seafood, canapés, turkey, ham, cheese, paté, etc.
On Christmas Day you could try sopa de galets amb pilota which is a vegetable and meat broth with snail-shaped pasta and large meatballs. It’s served with carn d’olla which is made from the meat and vegetables that were used in the broth.
For the sweet tooth, you must try the torrons. They’re kind of nougats made with various ingredients such as roasted almonds, pine nuts, hazelnuts or walnuts and mixed with honey or eggs, candied fruit, chocolate, or other ingredients.
Neules are long, thin and crunchy pastry sheets rolled in tubes and made of flour, sugar, and egg white. Sometimes they can have a chocolate layer and be stuffed with torron. You can eat them with turron and a glass of Cava and ice cream, sorbet or crema catalana.
On Boxing Day, Catalans usually eat cannelloni. They are tube pasta stuffed with the meat leftovers from the day before. They come with a succulent béchamel sauce.
For more Catalan cuisine read our article, Authentic Catalan Food Specialities You Have To Try.
Els Sants Innocents
This is the Catalan for the Holy Innocents. It’s celebrated on the 28th of December and is the equivalent of April Fool’s day where people play practical jokes and tricks on each other. The most common joke, especially among children, is to stick a llufa in the back of an ‘innocent’ person. A llufa is a paper doll usually cut from a newspaper page.
Photo by Jove / Public domain
The Three Kings procession
It is well known that the biggest day in the Christmas period in Spain is actually the 6th of January. Families tend to spend Christmas Day enjoying good food in the company of their family, meanwhile, the 6th of January is when gifts are exchanged.
The celebrations begin the day before, when a major parade occurs in the streets of Barcelona to celebrate the arrival of the Three Wise Men in the city.
At around 4pm, the Three Kings arrive by ship and are greeted by the mayor of the city on the harbour dock of Moll de la Fusta. There, they collect the last present lists from children. After that, the mayor welcomes them with bread and salt as a mark of hospitality. He also gives them the key of the city, which is actually magic, giving them access to every home in Barcelona so that they can leave presents for the children during the night.
This ceremony is followed by a massive procession of floats going through Barcelona starting at 6pm from Ciutadella Park. The Three Kings are accompanied by royal pages such as Gregori and Estel who tell them whether children have been misbehaving throughout the year. If they’ve been good they’ll receive presents, if otherwise they’ll get coal. Groups of artists and dancers, big-headed figures and anybody from organisations willing to take part complete the parade. With the streets full of excited children, it feels like Christmas has started again.
Christmas in Music
We’d like to accompany you for Christmas and bring more warmth into your home with this selection of Christmas songs. Whether you want to or not you’ll start humming these tunes sooner than you think. Don’t hesitate to press the play button several times.
Where to Stay
At ChicRoom Barcelona, we always think about providing the homiest holiday accommodation in Barcelona for this period. Located in great, central locations, you will never be far from Christmas events or popular landmarks during your stay. We have a range of styles and sizes and we are sure you’ll be enchanted by their premium style and warm atmosphere. Browse our selection and book your dream Barcelona accommodation today.
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