Whether you live in Barcelona or you’re just visiting the city during the holiday season, you’re probably curious about how the Catalan people celebrate Christmas. Like in many other aspects of the Catalan culture, they’ve got their very own way of celebrating Christmas. From the decorations they put up to the foods they eat and the typical Christmas Day celebration, Christmas in Catalonia is something very special. In fact, they have several unique Christmas traditions that you won’t find anywhere else in Spain (or in the world for that matter) and some of them are downright bizarre. So what are the Catalan Christmas traditions?
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One of the most interesting Catalan Christmas traditions is, without a doubt, the Caga Tío. You can find this decoration in practically every Catalan home around the holidays both in large and miniature form. Basically, it’s a wooden log with a smiling face painted onto one end. As the Catalan version of Santa Claus, it wears a red hat and brings all the gifts for Christmas.
Traditionally, the idea is that the children take care of the log until Christmas Eve, covering him with a blanket to keep him warm and feeding him turrón, a traditional Spanish Christmas sweet. When Christmas comes, the children will beat the log with a stick while singing a traditional song until he “poops” out the presents under the blanket, hence the name, Caga Tío or “pooping log” in English. The more the kids take care of him, the more presents he will “poop out” at Christmas. It might sound like a strange tradition, but the kids love it and the Caga Tío really is one of the most original and fun Christmas traditions in Catalonia.
The traditional Catalan nativity scene is never complete without a caganer. In addition to the normal Mary, Joseph, and three wise men figures, in Catalonia, you will find a little figurine of a man pooping called a “caganer” hidden inside the nativity scene. The meaning behind the caganer is debated, but the custom has been around in Catalonia since the 18th century and is usually said to symbolize fertility and good fortune, especially for farmers in the coming year. You can find the traditional figures in any Christmas market in Catalonia along with spin-off versions with the faces famous people such as politicians, royalty, and football players.
The Fira de Santa Llúcia
Each year around Christmas time in Barcelona, the Fira de Santa Llúcia takes place in front of the cathedral in Barcelona. It’s a great place to get into the Christmas spirit, look for the perfect Christmas tree, and buy decorations (including the Caga Tío and caganers) for your home. This year the Christmas fair starts on the 24th of November and runs all the way until the 23rd of December.
Christmas Day in Catalonia is all about spending time with family and enjoying good food made with traditional recipes. The main Christmas dish is escudella i carn d’olla, a traditional Catalan stew made with big pasta shells filled with meat. People usually drink Cava, the Catalan sparkling wine, and eat sweets like turrón. On the day after Christmas, the traditional meal is cannelloni made with leftovers from the stew and covered in a béchamel sauce and cheese. These two days are a time for celebrating at home and spending time with family.
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Three Kings Day
Finally, on January 6th, the big gift-giving day is celebrated in Catalonia and the rest of Spain. It’s known as the Three Kings Day and this is when the children receive most of their Christmas presents. On the 5th of January, the day before the kings give out the gifts, you can see them in processions in the streets all around Spain. At night, the children leave out some food and drinks for the kings and their camels, patiently waiting for them to come with the gifts.
* Main photo by Erwan Hesry via Visualhunt