Catalan Christmas Traditions

It’s that time of the year again and Barcelona has been decked out for the Holiday Season.  The lights, which have been hanging since mid-September (I may be exaggerating), were finally turned on, November 22nd.  Because Thanksgiving is not celebrated here, there is nothing between Halloween (All Saint’s Day is the celebration in Spain) and Christmas, which means the Christmas decorations come out a bit earlier than American customs.  It is nice, to have to Christmas markets open and to have the celebrations last longer than just the day after Christmas; in fact, January 6th is largely the bigger celebration amongst families here, and the season extends until then.

One thing I love about Europe are the Christmas Markets that pop up in many cities, that really bring about a bit more of that holiday spirit. In Barcelona the market opens every year in front to the Cathedral in Plaça Nova which brings a lot of shops selling traditional Catalan Christmas items.  Take a stroll through and you are bound to find some interesting looking figures for sale.  Two in particular always jump out the most!

  1. The Caganer
    If you are walking through the market, you will notice that at the top of the some of the stalls there are some men squatting and taking a poop.  If you walk closer you will see that all the figurines being sold are doing the same thing.  Cagar in Catalan, means “to poop” and the Caganer, “the Pooper”. Now, I think these are the single best souvenir you can buy in Barcelona and take home.  It’s always good for a laugh or two with whomever you give it.  The important thing to know about the Caganer is the placement.  Now, the manger scenes in houses tend to be pretty elaborate and filled with more than just the typical Holy Family and wisemen.  Past all the shepards and animals, the Caganer can be placed in the back, far away from the baby Jesus.  The poop is said to fertilize the soil and bring good luck as we head into the new year.  Honestly, no one really knows for sure why they have these figures or where the tradition really comes from, but it is always said that you never know when God will arrive, you could be busy, doing something like pooping…Check out one of the stalls to see all the different types of characters they have made.There is a great video to check out called The Six Craziest Christmas Traditions, if you want to get a few more laughs about this uncanny figure.
  2. Caga Tío
    The poop at Christmas-time doesn’t stop here, the Caga Tío, “Poop Uncle”, is a popular tradition amongst childrencaga tio and one item you will find in abundance walking around the markets.  The Caga Tío is a smiling log that wears a hat and is covered in a blanket.  The hat is known as the barretina and is a typical hat worn in the past by farmers.  The Caga Tío is fed every day during the month of December until the 24th of the month, when it has digested it’s feast and is then hit by the children with a stick while they sing and dance, literally telling the log that if it doesn’t poop out good presents it will be hit with the stick.  After being tapped by the stick, the log will “poop” out the presents and the children will find them under the blanket.  Usually these are little trinkets or candies.  IF you are taking a stroll in the Christmas Market, you will notice a large Caga Tío just to the side of the cathedral that allows all children to take part in the tradition.Check out this video from Anthony Bourdain to get an idea of what the song is like!
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