The Christmas season holds a number of dates to be remembered, with some celebrated across the whole of Spain and others unique to Catalunya. Here are some of the most important traditions on the local Christmas calendar.
December 8th: The Feast of the Immaculate Conception
Seen by many as the real start of the Christmas season, on this date decorations are put up, lights switched on and nativity scenes—pessebres—introduced into homes and some public spaces. Always present in the scene is one of Catalunya’s more particular symbols, the Caganer. Essentially a figure caught in the act of defecation, the Caganer is said to represent good luck and fertile land, and is depicted in his original form, as well as by models of celebrities and characters such as Obama, Queen Elizabeth II and FC Barcelona players. The city’s main nativity scene is located in Plaça Sant Jaume.
December 24th: Christmas Eve and the Tió de Nadal
Taking the form of a log with human features such as eyes, a nose and the traditional Catalan barretina, the Tió de Nadal is a popular Christmas custom celebrated across Catalunya. Having been kept warm by a blanket and fed orange peels and turrón every evening since his creation on December 8th, today he is ready to give out the gifts he has been harbouring—but not without some encouragement. This comes from the children of the family, who sing a song and hit him with a stick, causing him to 'excrete' sweets, turrón and nuts.
December 25th-26th: Christmas Day and the Feast of Sant Esteban
While Christmas Day is celebrated across Catalunya, it is the 26th of December which features the most typically Catalan culinary tradition of the season. A hearty meal of escudella i carn d’olla—a meaty, slow-cooked stew—is the star on the 25th. The leftovers are then used to provide filling for the canelons, delicious pasta rolls eaten the following day as part of the Feast of Sant Esteban, a holiday commemorating the first known Christian martyr.
December 28th: The Feast of Los Santos Inocentes
Light-hearted practical jokes characterise this cheeky holiday, celebrated in a similar way to April Fool’s Day. The ‘Day of the Holy Innocents’ has its roots in the persecution of innocent children by King Herod, but nowadays takes on a more festive feel. One of the most popular pranks is to place a man’s silhouette on people’s backs without them noticing, whilst the media also gets involved, often printing fictional stories.
December 31st: New Year’s Eve
As the year draws to a close, the country celebrates in a number of ways. Lentils are commonly eaten to ensure wealth and prosperity for the coming year, with each lentil representing a coin. At midnight, as the clocks chime 12, a grape is eaten on each stroke. Difficult and hilarious in equal measures, the effort is worth it—if successful you can rest assured you'll have good fortune for the next 365 days. An enjoyable way to wash down your mouthful of grapes, cava is also drunk at midnight to ring in the New Year.
6th January: Epiphany/Three Kings Day
January 6th: Epiphany/Three Kings Day
On January 5th, the three Kings arrive in Spain. Having left water for their camels, food for the kings themselves and shoes by the window to be filled with presents, today children can open the gifts that the Kings have left for them overnight. And thus ends the Christmas season, until the magic begins again next December.
COOK YOUR OWN FESTIVE FOOD
If the idea of traditional Catalan Christmas cuisine tickles your tastebuds, why not learn how to create an authentic festive feast. The Centre Cívic Cotxeres Borrell runs a number of reasonably-priced workshops: find out how to make the perfect panellets or learn how to create a simple yet impressive Christmas menu.
More information here.