December has arrived, and Barcelona is welcoming all the lights, decorations, seasonal markets and joyful songs that come with the last month of the year. And not Barcelona: all Catalan cities, towns, and villages are getting immersed into the Christmas spirit. The Feria de Santa Lucia is already up – and it gets super busy during the evenings when locals stop by to buy their Christmas decoration and taste some winter delicacies.
But besides all these regular season customs, Catalonia has its own -and very peculiar- traditions that are worth mentioning. And if you’re ever coming to Barcelona (or Girona or Tarragona, or anywhere in Catalonia), make sure to keep your eyes open for these unique characters! If you have the opportunity, make sure to ask for a local to explain them all to you. But if the opportunity doesn’t show up, or you’re too curious to wait, here is a brief taste of what’s to come:
The Caga Tió is a happy and friendly mythological character that arrives into people’s living rooms at least 15 days before Christmas. This creature is made out of a small log that you decorate with two front legs and a smiley face. As for its attire, it wears the barretina (a traditional Catalan hat) and a blanket that keeps it warm from the cold at night.
On the days previous to Christmas, the children of the household are in charge to feed the Caga Tió with water, fresh fruit, dried fruit, and nuts. This food will “mysteriously” disappear overnight (just like Santa Clause with the cookies and milk).
On Christmas day or Christmas Eve (depending on the family), the Tió is placed usually in the living room and the children of the household sit around it and sing songs while they beat it with sticks so it can “defecate” the presents.
Usually, before the beating, all the kids go into another room and pray to ask for the Caga Tió to deliver a lot of presents (usually sweets, turrones and edible things); this being the perfect excuse for the adults to place the presents under the blanket. Usually, the bigger presents are given away by the Three Kings in January.
In a lot of countries, it’s customary to represent the Birth of Jesus at Christmas time, by scenically reproducing it through plastic figures, plays or even living people. This is a deep-rooted tradition in Catalonia as well.
The creation of Nativities in Catalonia is something that a lot of people work for. They usually take a lot of space around a square or a pedestrian street. An enormous miniature town is created in order to recreate the Birth of Jesus.
The first Living Nativity was staged in 1956 in Andorra, and from there it spread all over the region. Today, a lot of people make their own Nativity Scene with distinctive characteristics and unique peculiarities. Even though in some places of Catalonia there are next to no resources to keep up with this tradition, they never fail to stage it even if it’s very low-key.
Also, the Live Nativities are sometimes made after the Midnight Mass, while others take place during all the festivities, with the aim of being visited and gain a little profit for the city/town.
If you are ever in Catalonia for the Christmas season and you walk into a Christmas Market like the Santa Llucía Market in front of the Cathedral, you’ll notice among the stands a figurine with the traditional Catalan attire. The name of the figurine is “Caganer” as it refers to its squatting position with its pants/trousers down.
The Caganer has been part of the Catalan nativities for the past three centuries, the tradition supposedly starting as a fertility and good fortune symbol. The countryside legend stated that if the figure wasn’t placed in the nativity scene, the countryside men would have a very bad year collecting vegetables.
Out of respect to the nativity scene, the Caganer is hidden far away from the crib where Baby Jesus would be laying after birth. He’s always hiding in a corner, under a bridge or behind a tree. Usually the children play the game of finding where the Caganer is placed each time they see a different nativity.
- The latest caganer inventions
Even though at the beginning the Caganer was supposed to be a countryside Catalan man or woman; lately the making of these figures have taken a turn and are reproducing world known people like politicians, athletes, and even actors.
Lately one of the most popular Caganer figures sold are the ones of Prince William and Kate Middleton; and although I’m sure that if the Crown knew about this they wouldn’t be too happy about it, the caganer-makers insist that their making is everything but an insult and that people usually see these figurines as a symbol of prosperity and good luck.