Catalan Christmas Traditions

Karie on Dec 17th 2007 03:16 pm

Every culture holds dear its own traditions, and this year we have the opportunity to experience those of Barcelona. For example…

  • Christmas is celebrated for all 12 days that we sing about, although I have yet to see any partridges or pear trees.
  • Young & old anxiously await the arrival of the 3 Kings on January 6th, while Santa (or Father Christmas) takes a back seat on December 25th.
  • Children beat logs wearing funny hats until presents fall out (more on this later).
  • Health, luck and prosperity are represented by the addition of a questionable gnome-like character hidden somewhere in the nativity scene (more on this later).
  • 310 streets throughout town are decorated with lights.
  • It’s not politically incorrect to wish someone a “Merry Christmas”, “Feliz Navidad”, or “Bon Nadal.”

Being a metropolitan city, where the most common forms of transportation are feet or subways, Christmas brings the streets to life. While there are a couple malls, the most popular way to shop is roaming up and down the store-lined streets, or the infamous Christmas market outside the Barcelona Cathedral.

At the Christmas market you can buy gifts such as hand-made jewelry or scarves, as well as anything needed to decorate your home for the holidays, i.e. Christmas trees, nativity scenes, and of course, pooping shepherds and logs… What, your Macy’s doesn’t carry those??

I think the last two Catalan traditions, being two of my personal favorites, deserve further explanation…

Who is this Pooping Sheppard?
He is called a Caganer, which translates as “the pooper”… actually, it translates to something even a little more crude, but I’ll let you use whatever version of the word you choose!

He has been around since the 17th or 18th century, and is a staple in Catalan nativity scenes. He is usually hidden somewhere amongst baby Jesus, the wise men and the animals. He “fertilizes” the earth, bringing good luck, health, renewal, and a bit of “rauxa” (a reminder to relax and have a little fun). Rumor has it that he was briefly outlawed in public nativity scenes, but the Catalan’s so fiercely fought for their tradition that the Caganer was reintroduced.

Yes, we now own one.

And the Pooping Log?
Caga Tió translates to “pooping log” (again, choose your own word). There is a bit of confusion on this one, as Tío (with the accent over the “i”) in Castilian Spanish, means Uncle. However, in Catalan (the native language of this region of Spain), Tió (with the accent over the “o”) means log.

You can either create your own Caga Tió with any log you choose, or purchase one at the Christmas market, complete with a cute face & hat. You cover the log with a cloth or blanket, and nurture it for the days approaching Christmas. On either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, children then beat the log with a stick until it “poops” presents. Seriously. There’s even a song they sing when they beat the log… I’ve heard a few versions of it, but they generally translate into something like…

Poop log!
Poop torrons, hazelnuts & cheese
Don’t poop sardines because their too salty
If you don’t poop well I’ll hit you with this stick
Poop log!

Then the children reach under the Caga Tió’s covering and pull out turróns (a traditional Christmas candy) and other treats. You know the Caga Tió is finished when it poops an onion or garlic.

Hey, anyone who has ever visited Graceland, trick-or-treated, or owned any type of inflatable Christmas decoration has no place to judge others’ cultural traditions! To quote Scott quoting someone from a small group video at CVCF, “it’s not wrong, it’s just different.” Ok, maybe a little weird, but it’s fun.

I think Christmas is a little slower here, in a good way. Maybe that’s because we’ve nixed the presents this year in lieu of traveling with friends & family who come to visit. My parents are here now, and we’re enjoying every minute!  We’re off to Paris tomorrow, but in the meantime we’re enjoying a lazy Christmas Day and lots of great food.

Merry Christmas!

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