The Christmas cycle includes a large number of celebrations and religious rituals that revolve round the birth of Christ but also maintain a lot of pagan traditions, such as fer cagar el tió (make the log “shit”)
Caga Tio is a log painted with a smiley face who is cared for from El Dia de Inmaculada, December 8th until Christmas.
The Catalan Christmas tradition says that, as of 8 December, children must feed him every day with leftovers or fruit peels. The more he eats, the fatter he gets and more gifts will produce for the little ones.
On Christmas Day or Christmas Eve (it varies), the children beat the log (and throw him into the fire) singing songs enticing it to ‘shit some presents’. Also particular to the Catalonia region, which clearly didn’t think that one scatological Christmas.
Christmas Lottery/ Sorteo de Navidad
An important event that also takes place around Christmas time is the Christmas lottery, It has been organized every year since 1812 The Spanish Christmas lottery is the second longest continuously running lottery in the world. As measured by the total prize payout, the Spanish Christmas Lottery is considered the biggest lottery worldwide. In 2015, with 18 million pre-printed €20 tickets to sell. The total prize for the first place El Gordo (“the fat one”) jackpot would be €720 million. In 2010, €414 million from the first prize were sold in Barcelona.
To buy a whole ticket and thus have a chance of winning costs €200, hence many people’s preference for a €20 décimo, or tenth of a ticket. This sharing out of a whole ticket, often amongst family members or work colleagues, makes the Christmas lottery a highly social event. Some clubs and even bars may break the tickets down even further, spreading around any winnings even more thinly.
The draws, which are held in Madrid on December 22nd every year and considered a national event, differ from standard lotteries in two important aspects. Unlike other lotteries, whose draws are generally brief and completed with relatively little fanfare, El Gordo de Navidad draws take hours to complete due to the sheer number of prizes and the format is closer to a raffle than a standard lottery.
The figure of the caganer is one of the main icons of Christmas in Catalonia, a must-have in every Catalan nativity scene. It is the figure of a shepherd dressed in traditional Catalan clothes, with his pants down and “doing his needs”. The name “El Caganer” literally means “the crapper” or “the shitter”. Traditionally, the figurine is depicted as a peasant, wearing the traditional Catalan red cap, barretina, and with his trousers down, showing a bare backside, and defecating.
The Caganer tradition dates back to the 18th century and, far from the eschatological meaning that could be assumed, originally represented the scene of a peasant who fertilized the land to make it fruitful and ensure a good harvest the following year. It was therefore considered a symbol of health, prosperity and Christmas joy.
Over the time, the figure of the caganer has acquired a more humorous tone and, in addition to the traditional shepherd, you can find in the Christmas markets caganers representing almost any public character you can imagine: sportsmen, politicians, artists, etc.
Sweet ‘caca’ is an excellent souvenir to bring to your family and friends at home
Most people in Catalonia as well as in Spain go to Midnight Mass or ‘La Misa Del Gallo’ (The Mass of the Rooster). It is called this because a rooster is supposed to have crowed the night that Jesus was born.
Most families eat their main Christmas meal on Christmas Eve before the service. The modern Spanish Christmas dinner is seafood or fish. This can be all kinds of different seafood, from shellfish and mollusks, to lobster and small edible crabs. A typical Christmas dish in Catalonia is “Escudella i carn d’olla” This is a tasty bowl (escudella means bowl) of pasta shells “galets” in a meat and vegetable stew or soup. Another typical Catalan Christmas dish is the delicious “carn d’olla” which is a meat dish of stuffed capon or turkey.
After the midnight service, one old tradition was for people to walk through the streets carrying torches, playing guitars and beating on tambourines and drums. One Spanish saying is ‘Esta noche es Noche-Buena, Y no Es noche de dormir’ which means ‘Tonight is the good night and it is not meant for sleeping!
In Catalonia and the rest of Spain you can’t understand Christmas without the nougat, a typical sweet with Arab origins that becomes the king of family celebrations typical of these dates.
It is a base of sweet dough made with sugar, almonds and honey, and with all the flavors, colors and textures that you can imagine: chocolate (also with almonds or hazelnuts), cream and walnuts, coconut, nougat, hard nougat or almonds… You can’t miss them!
Visiting Barcelona on Nochevieja (Old Night)? Avinguda Maria Cristina, as usual, will be welcoming 2018 this coming at 9.30 pm on Sunday, December 31st with a fireworks and water show. This year’s icon for the New Year’s Eve celebrations will be the traditional twelve grapes, one for each of the chimes of the midnight bells. The show is meant to transcend the element (grapes) and take advantage of the form (circles) and symbolism that come with all that: the eternal line without beginning or end, which evokes cycles that repeat themselves and, as a result, the passage of time.
Toasting the New Year with a gold ring in your glass of Cava is supposed to bring wealth and prosperity. For the ladies, wearing red lingerie also helps, although this tradition is more linked to love than money..
There is no Santa…
Catalan as well as Spanish people don’t have a Santa Claus. Apparently, the climate change just doesn’t suit him and Rudolph doesn’t like to fly so close to the sun. But there are Three Kings, also known as los Reyes Magos.
On January 5th, many make their way to their favorite bakeries to order a Roscón de Reyes, recipe here, which they will enjoy for breakfast the following day. Much more than a day for sweet traditions, the main focus here is on the kids, as parades roll through town in which the Reyes Magos (three kings) and their pages shower candy over delighted children.
January 6th is el Dia de Reyes, The day of the Three Kings. The Three Kings bring presents for children and children at heart. All cities and even villages, hold a Three Kings Parade which usually consists of themed floats traveling on a route across the city Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos, and handing out candy to the children, that have been good and sugar coal to the ones, who have been naughty. Local children actively participate in the parade. You can see them all dressed up sitting on the carriages. Every carriage is different and they are competing with each other.
The traditions slightly vary in every city. For example in Barcelona the Three Kings arrive by boat. Watch video.
Who are the Three Kings?
- Gaspar, who has brown hair and a brown beard (or no beard!) and wears a green cloak and a gold crown with green jewels on it. He is the King of Sheba. Gaspar represents the Frankincense brought to Jesus. Frankincense is sometimes used in worship in Churches and showed that people worship Jesus.
- Melchior, who has long white hair and a white beard and wears a gold cloak. He is the King of Arabia. Melchior represents the Gold brought to Jesus. Gold is associated with Kings and Christians believe that Jesus is the King of Kings.
- Balthazar, who has black skin and a black beard (or no beard!) and wears a purple cloak. He is the King of Tarse and Egypt. Balthazar represents the gift of Myrrh that was brought to Jesus. Myrrh is a perfume that is put on dead bodies to make them smell nice and showed that Jesus would suffer and die.
If there is no Santa, can I be naughty?
With the help of the royal pages and postmen, the servants and the spies, who spend all year watching you, Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar could take the wise decision on who has been naughty or nice. They also receive the letters from children instead of Santa.
In 2018 Estel and Amadeu are the pages responsible for organizing the Kings’ intelligence service in Barcelona. So they will be receiving young kids with their letters at the traditional collection points between 2 and 4 January. Estel will be in Plaça de Catalunya, currently hosting the Responsible Consumption Fair, and she will be relying on another page, Homar, to take over from her every afternoon. Amadeu will be on the schooner Santa Eulàlia, tied up at the Moll de la Fusta wharf, from 10.30 am to 7.30 pm, without a break
Christmas Lottery/ Sorteo del Niño
Lottery? Again? For the ones, who didn’t have luck with Christmas Lottery/ Sorteo de Navidad, there is another chance on January 6th. The Child Lottery, Sorteo del Niño, has been held for 76 years and about which many know very little. It was held in 1941 for the first time until it had taken root among the Spanish population as a great event.
The first day of the winter sales in Spain is normally around 7th January and they run until 1st of March.
Till then you can visit numerous Christmas markets, the most poplar ones are Fira de Santa Llúcia, Sagrada Família Christmas market. More details here.
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