Christmas in Catalonia, Spain like almost everywhere else, has its own characteristics, foods and traditions. From a figure that appears shitting in the manger to a log that you have to hit with a stick to get presents, a Catalan Christmas can be something totally out of the ordinary. Here’s everything you need to know if you’re thinking of spending the festive season in this Mediterranean region.
Christmas traditions in Catalonia
All over the world there are different Christmas customs that make the end-of-year festivities take on a special meaning, because each and every one of them awakens the Christmas spirit.
A Catalan Christmas brings with it a gastronomic tradition and several very representative figures, such as the caganer, the uncle de Nadal, l’home dels nassos and els pastorets.
As in the rest of Spain, the Catalans use the 25th of December to get together with family and friends to enjoy a traditional meal, which usually includes delicacies such as escudella de galets (a soup of galets, which is a type of pasta in the shape of a typical Catalan conch shell) and the typical sweets: turrones (nougat and wafers).
El Tió de Nadal
This character, whose name could be translated as “Christmas log”, is one of the most popular traditions in Catalonia. At the beginning of December, many Catalan families take a trip to the forest to pick up a log and decorate it with various Christmas decorations. From then on, they feed and water it every night with the intention that, when Christmas Eve arrives, the Tío de Nadal will “shit” presents from under the blanket with which it is also decorated.
But that’s not the end of the story, as the children help the Tio to do his job by hitting him with a stick while they sing songs related to this peculiar character.
As in the rest of Spain, nativity scenes are very characteristic of Christmas in Catalonia. This tradition, which is believed to have its origins in the ancient custom of keeping images of the gods in the house, is present in almost every Catalan home.
There are nativity scenes of all kinds, from the handmade ones that use materials such as cork, wood and moss to bring the scene and the characters to life, to those made in China from plastic and derivatives. There are even nativity scenes made of Legos, so imagine the variety.
For some years now, the representation of living nativity scenes has become increasingly popular. Thanks to the work of more or less professional actors, you can experience the most famous scene in Christianity close up.
Caganer (the Christmas ‘crapper’)
If you thought that a log shitting presents was the most scatological thing you were going to find at Christmas in Catalonia, this is going to surprise you.
The caganer is a tradition that is as Catalan as it is peculiar and fun. It consists of a small figure of a man dressed in typical Catalan clothes who, with his trousers down to his ankles, prepares to relieve himself without a care in the world. But there is more: this figure does not just go anywhere, but is placed in the nativity scene, next to the typical figures, such as the Virgin Mary, the shepherds, the kings, etc.
You’ll find little statuettes of the caganer relieving his bowels in most Catalan Christmas’ markets. Nowadays, he is such a popular character that many celebrities and public figures are honoured to be portrayed as a Christmas ‘crapper’. Singer and songwriter Rosalía, football player Leo Messi, film director Woody Allan… you name it!
Saint Stephen’s Day
26 December is Saint Stephen’s Day, and in Catalonia it is used as an opportunity to get together again with relatives, generally with those with whom Christmas was not celebrated. This festivity is marked by San Esteban cannelloni – a typical Catalan dish that is very popular on this date.
The origin of the celebration of Saint Stephen’s Day is not entirely clear, although it is thought to be related to the fact that, centuries ago, people needed a whole day to return home, usually on foot, from the farmhouse where the whole family had gathered to celebrate Christmas. With the passing of time, this day, which eventually ceased to be useful for work purposes, became a public holiday.
El Hombre de las Narices (Home dels nassos)
L’home dels nassos is a mythological character who has as many noses as there are days in the year, and appears in the streets every 31st December. The reality is that this man could be anyone because he only has one nose, but in the children’s imagination a bizarre man with 365 noses was created.
In the case of Barcelona, l’Home dels Nassos was the man who handed the keys that would open the new year to the town’s authorities. In the case of Tarragona, this figure was the first to be represented as a capgrós, who walks through all the streets of the town until he appears on the balcony of the town hall to greet the people.
Els pastorets, a play inspired by the Gospel story of Christmas, is performed all over Catalonia. It is divided into three main stories: Joseph, Mary and the birth, the struggle between good and evil, represented by angels and demons, and finally, the shepherds with a comic character.
Without doubt, Els pastorets, as well as being a deeply-rooted family Christmas entertainment in Catalonia with origins in the Middle Ages, has become an expression of popular culture.
April Fools’ Day?
Less related to the Christian festivities, but just as typical of the Christmas season in Catalonia, we have April Fools’ Day, which is celebrated every 28 December and whose axis revolves around playing pranks that surprise at any time: from a fake news item in a newspaper to something that scares you out of your wits, these pranks can be anything, although they generally do not carry the “bad intention” that other types of pranks can have :P.
Typical foods of Christmas in Catalonia
As in any good celebration, food is of vital importance. During a Christmas in Catalonia you will be able to try some of the most traditional dishes of this time of the year, giving this festivity its characteristic flavour.
Christmas Eve dinner is usually one of the most important dinners of the year in Catalan homes. These dinners usually begin with an escudella de galets, which is the second part of the dish known as Carn d’Olla: to make it, a large piece of meat is cooked for hours in a broth, then the meat is removed and the remaining broth is used for the escudella. The removed meat is later eaten as a main course, accompanied by other side dishes, such as prawns, ham, etc.
For dessert, the children usually eat the sweets given to them by Caga Tió, as well as nougat, polvorones and other typical delicacies of this time of year.
Christmas fair/markets in Catalonia
Christmas fairs and markets are an essential part of any Christmas in Catalonia, both in terms of buying Christmas decorations and simply going for a stroll around them, enjoying the pure Christmas spirit.
Santa Llucia Christmas Fair (Barcelona)
- Open: 24th November – 23rd December
- Monday to Friday: from 10:00 until 21:00.
- Saturdays, holidays and the eve of holidays: from 10:00 to 21:00.
13 December is the date that many people mark the start of the Christmas season in Barcelona, as on that day, the day of Santa Llúcia, the large market of fir trees and Christmas decorations in the Plaza de la Catedral is inaugurated. At this fair, which was first held in 1786, you can find everything from Christmas trees and nativity figures to mistletoe, handicrafts and typical Christmas decorations.
Fir Tree Fair (Espinelves, Girona)
At the beginning of December, this small village of cobbled streets located in the beautiful natural surroundings of the Montseny massif celebrates the Espinelves Fir Tree Fair. This fair is the place where Catalan families come to buy the perfect fir tree to decorate their homes. As you would expect, as well as the trees, here you can also find all the decorative objects you need to decorate your home. In addition, you can also enjoy activities for the whole family and buy food products and handicrafts.
Epiphany Fair (Barcelona)
Another of Barcelona’s typical Christmas markets is the Feria de Reyes (Epiphany Fair) located on Gran Vía. This fair, dedicated to toys, is the perfect place to do your Christmas shopping. It was first held in 1877 and currently has more than 200 stalls where you can also find craft items.
Tió Fair (Arbúcies, Girona)
At the beginning of December, the most characteristic Christmas character in Catalonia has his own fair, also at the foot of Montseny. Here you can get your own Caga Tió from a huge number and variety of options. You’ll also find stalls selling typical Christmas crafts and foodstuffs.
Sagrada Familia Fair (Barcelona)
- Location: C/ de Mallorca, 401, 08013 Barcelona
From the end of November, right in front of the Sagrada Familia Cathedral, you will find the Sagrada Familia Christmas Fair, ideal for buying products such as neules, nougat and chestnuts, as well as other typical Christmas products.
Golden Christmas Market (Girona)
- Location: Cal Fuster, 17199 Sant Gregori, Girona
Moving away from the more traditional fairs towards a more modern Christmas market, we find the Golden Christmas Market, a “festimarket” that takes place throughout December and the first days of January on a viewpoint at the top of Sant Gregori, from where you can see the sea and the city of Girona in a privileged natural setting. With crafts of all kinds, shows and food products, the Golden Christmas Market is another good option for enjoying Christmas in Catalonia.
Sitges Christmas Festival (Sitges, Barcelona)
This fair, organised by the Spanish Patchwork Association, takes place during the last weekend of November on La Fragata Beach, below the La Punta Church in Sitges. There you can find dozens of stalls where you can discover the latest trends in the world of creative leisure, with lots of ideas and Christmas proposals.
Christmas in Poble Español (Barcelona)
This is, without a doubt, one of the most eagerly awaited Christmas events in Catalonia. For several days in December (the dates change from year to year), Poble Espanyol becomes a giant advent calendar where you can find 24 themed corners related to characters, traditions and typical Christmas scenes, crafts, live music and, of course, the presence of Father Christmas himself and Their Majesties the Three Wise Men.
Christmas is surrounded by traditions that go beyond lights, markets, gatherings, the tree and Advent wreaths. The symbols and customs of Christmas vary from country to country and region. We hope you have enjoyed post and that it will help you to plan your festive season in Catalonia – Autonomous Community of spain. If so, be sure to share it!