Christmas traditions in Cataluña

Christmas traditions in Cataluña: Curious Festive Customs Around Barcelona

Cataluña is a very popular place for British people to buy property, along with Alicante further South.

Christmas traditions differ from country to country: Ranging from the mundane to the outright strange; these traditions can also be very diverse within the same country.

There exist many different Spanish Christmas traditions, usually based on Catholic influences. Cataluña in particular is famous for some very unusual customs during these festive holidays. Some are quirky, others inspiring, some are delicious and some ridiculous. All these different concepts make for a decidedly particular season.

Nativity Scenes in Cataluña
Although the exact date has never been clearly pinpointed, it appears that around 1223, the founder of the Franciscan order, San Francisco de Asis, was the first person to recreate a Nativity scene. He built a small straw building to emulate a stable, brought several live animals from surrounding neighbours, and invited various people to represent the different characters from the Bible.

The idea was quickly popularised; spreading from Spain to Italy, and eventually to many areas of the world. As it would be extremely difficult to represent these scenes with live animals and people, many different variations exist, such as clay figures.

This tradition is widespread in all of Spain, but has special significance in Cataluña. Every year there are contests to determine the best Nativity scene, live scenes represented in main squares, and even some made entirely from chocolate. Most homes will be proud to display their Nativities in the front hall. Whole markets and stores are dedicated to selling the various accessories to build the perfect scene; from live moss to animated fountains, clay figures, to straw, and tiny palm trees. A tradition that has passed from generation to generation.

Galets as a Starter Christmas Dish
Galets is a type of pasta in the shape of a snail; curiously, they are also known as sharks. It is not clear if the galets were originally from Spain, or were brought over from the north of Italy. The biggest variety, which is used particularly at Christmas to make soup, is considered Catalan. It seems that many, many years ago, long ropes of thick pasta were cut into more manageable pieces for cooking.

The galets are usually filled with meat and vegetables, and eaten as a starter plate on Christmas day. This is an incredibly satisfying dish, which has been present at all Catalan Christmas tables for hundreds of years. So important and recognisable is this tradition, that Barcelona has huge, blown-up, illuminated versions placed around the city for Christmas. Tourists line up to take their pictures, not exactly knowing whether the object in question is a seashell or an enormous piece of pasta.

Traditional Catalan Caga Tio
This is one of Cataluña’s strangest Christmas traditions. Its literal translation is “Pooping Man”. This is a little figurine of a man wearing a typical barretina; a red, floppy Catalan hat. He is squatting and pooping, and is usually placed at the rear of a Nativity set.

Then there is the chocolate log, the inside of which is hollowed out, allowing space for candies, chocolate and fruit to be hidden inside. On the 8th of December, the log starts to be fed these little gifts. At night, the log is covered with a red cloth to keep it warm. On the 24th or 25th of December, the log is beaten with a stick until all its gifts are revealed. These logs can be any different size, from very small to very large. Considering that wood was a precious item many, many, years ago, due to the warmth and light it provided when burning; this custom emerged as a way to demonstrate gratitude for the positive aspects that fire brought to each house. Children revel in the excitement of choosing a log and watching over it during the days leading up to Christmas. When the great moment arrives, special traditional songs accompany the occasion.

Three Very Different Christmas Traditions
Considering the fact that Catalan people are very particular and feel that they are don’t have all that much in common with Spain in general, it is no small wonder that their festive traditions are also unique. Christmas comes but once a year and in keeping with the holiday spirit, each and every place celebrates in its own special way.

The summer and swimming pools are not the only advantage to living in Cataluña.