Christmas In Barcelona

Catalan Customs And Traditions

You'll find Christmas in Barcelona similar to what you're used to but with some important differences.

The street decorations are very impressive and you'll see Santas and Christmas trees, and just like at home Christmas Day and Boxing Day tend to be family days.

However, the traditional day for giving presents is Kings Day on January 6th and the most important Christmas decoration is El Pessebre or Nativity Scene.

Els Pastorets is a traditional nativity play and the scatalogical traditions of Caga Tió and El Caganer say a lot about eccentric Catalan culture.

As the holiday period is an important time for eating and drinking, I've created a separate page about Traditional Catalan Christmas Food And Drink.





Caga Tió

The Caga Tió or Shitting Log is just the first of Catalonia's strange scatalogical Christmas traditions and sounds much worse than it actually is.

The Caga Tió is a wooden log that has a smiley face painted on it and wears a traditional Catalan barretina, and it is set up on December 8 - the Day of the Immaculate Conception, to mark the beginning of the Christmas period.

That evening, the log is fed Christmas soup to fill its stomach and its backside is covered with a blanket.

A few days later, children come with sticks and beat it to encourage it to shit while shouting '

Caga tió, tió de Nadal
No caguis arengades, que són salades
Caga torrons, que són més bons!

'Shit log, Christmas log / Don't shit herrings, which are salty / Shit torrons, which are nicer!'

Magically, sweets and presents pop out from under the blanket.

This tradition is practised in many homes, but also keep an eye out at the Christmas festivals, markets and shops around the city, because the Caga Tió is a bit like Santa's grotto and is often set up to at markets and shopping centres to encourage business.

Festes de Nadal - Christmas Holidays

Apart from the Missa del Gall - the Midnight Mass - Catalans don't make much fuss about Christmas Eve.

Just like everywhere, El Dia de Nadal or Christmas Day is generally spent at home with the family eating, drinking and watching Christmas television.

Presents aren't traditionally given to children on Christmas Day as the Catalans have the Caga Tió and Reis for that. However, anglo-saxon Christmas customs are creeping in and more families are giving presents on both Christmas Day and Reis.

The typical Christmas Day meal is escudella de galets - a delicious soup containing pasta - followed by carn d'olla - a stew containing various meats and potatoes, cabbage and chick peas. This is followed by torrons and neules and copious quantities of cava.

Sant Esteve or Saint Stephen's Day is another family day when everyone eats canelons - Catalan cannelloni - traditionally made from the leftovers of the day before's carn d'olla.

The video below gives you a good idea of the atmosphere in the streets during the Christmas Period in Barcelona.


El Pessebre

Pessebre

El Pessebre or Nativity Scene with its figures of Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus, the bull and the donkey and the shepherds is an essential part of Christmas in Barcelona and is set up by children in every home.

Apparently, the tradition was started by Saint Francis of Assisi in 1223.

You'll find other lifesize nativity scenes in neighbourhoods around the city, the most important one being in Plaça Sant Jaume.

I also like visiting the Exhibition of Nativities by the Associació de Pessebristes de Barcelona in the Església de Betlem on the corner of La Rambla and Carrer del Carme.

You should also keep an eye out for 'pessebres vivents' or 'living nativity scenes', where the roles are taken by actors and real animals.

El Caganer

El Caganer

I didn't mention the other scatalogical Catalan Christmas tradition but you can't have a pessebre without El Caganer - The Shitting Man.

Traditionally, El Caganer is a Catalan peasant with a red barretina who gets taken short at the most important moment in history and is generally placed with trousers down and arse bared at the back of the stable.

The first time I saw him in the beautifully tasteful pessebre in Plaça Sant Jaume on my first Christmas in Barcelona back in 1988, I hadn't been warned and was completely lost for words.

The figure has become so popular that there are now caganers of famous people, such as footballers and politicians, and they have become collector's items.

Els Pastorets

Els Pastorets is the traditional nativity play and is well-worth seeing if you get the chance. It dates back to the 18th century and although it has been recreated by various authors, it is always a roughly similar telling of the the birth of Christ combined with confrontations between angels and demons.

El Dia dels Sants Innocents

Llufa from El Dia dels Sants Innocents

December 28th is Dia dels Innocents, which roughly equivalent to our April Fools Day.

Jokes are played on all and sundry and a great time is had by all. You have been warned!

The most typical jokes are spoof articles in the newspapers and false news reports on TV and watch your back because it's quite probable that someone will stick a llufa - a newspaper man - on it.

The origins of the day, though, are actually quite sinister and El Dia de los Sants Innocents and commemorates the day when Herod ordered the murder of all children born in Judea over the past few days to make sure he got rid of Baby Jesus, the King of the Jews.

New Year and Kings Day

Although part of the Christmas in Barcelona celebrations, both New Year and Kings Day can be considered separate festivals.



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