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Nativity scene home
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Nativity figuresMany Catalan homes have a nativity scene (or 'pessebre') that they set up every Christmas, and each year, people visit the stalls like this one at the market in front of the cathedral to buy new figures and accessories for their cribs
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Photo by Ema Kazlauskaite
Pessebre in Plaça Sant JaumeAs well as the pessebres that people have at home, you can spot public nativity scenes around the city. This one, featuring life-size characters from the Christmas story, is located in front of the Generalitat in Plaça Sant Jaume
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DecorationsAs well as traditional Catalan items, you can find lots of more familiar decorations as well as gifts suitable for friends and family at Barcelona's Christmas markets
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MistletoeMany stalls at the Christmas fair sell mistletoe, as well as poinsettias and other greenery that you can use to decorate your home
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Caga tiósAnother Catalan Christmas tradition is the 'caga tió'. These are logs that are decorated faces and stick legs and given typical Catalan hats (barretines) to wear. In the days leading up to Christmas Day, they are 'fed' by Catalan children; then, on the big day, the backside of the log is covered with a blanket where parents hide gifts. To get them, the children have to dance around the tió, hitting him with sticks and asking him to defecate out his presents...
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Photo by Ema Kazlauskaite
Santa Llucia at nightThe Santa Llucia (St Lucy) market in front of the cathedral can get very busy during the day, so why not visit it in the evening? Both this market and the one at the Sagrada Familia run until December 23rd
Barcelona's Christmas markets (firas de nadal in Catalan) may not be as famous as those in the north of Europe, but they are still well worth a visit.There are two main ones, the first in front of the Gothic cathedral in the old part of the city and the other in front of Gaudí's Sagrada Familia. The cathedral fair is also known as the Fira de Santa Llúcia (Saint Lucy), after the saint whose feast day is celebrated on December 13th.
If you go to one of the markets, what should you look out for? Well, you'll see a lot of nativity figures for sale—pessebres, as they are called in Catalan, are very popular with families here, and many people have a crib set at home; they go to the market each year to buy new figures and accessories to make ever more elaborate Christmas scenes. As well as the typical Jesus, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, animals and Three Kings, you'll find Roman soldiers, artisans at work (some powered by electricity, so they actually saw wood, chop logs or make bread), wells, running water in ponds and a wide variety of small items, both typical from Bethlehem from 2000 years ago and others that are more contemporary and popular in this part of the world (such as tools, ladders and buildings of various sizes). There are also some significant Catalan features that you can buy for your crib: the most famous of these is undoubtedly the caganer. This name literally means the shitter or the defecator, and traditionally shows a Catalan peasant or farmer, squatting down to his business, giving back to the earth what he had earlier taken from it; he is thought to be a lucky member of any Catalan pessebre. Nowadays, caganers take many different forms and each year, there is great expectation to see what new characters the caganer makers will come up with. Famous politicians, footballers, and local celebrities can be seen squatting down in row after row: this year, you'll see Barack Obama, Leo Messi (FC Barcelona's winner of the Ballon d'Or) and the most expensive footballer in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo. They aren't cheap (usually costing at least €10 each), but if you're looking for an original gift or souvenir, this is a good choice.
Elsewhere in the markets, you'll be able to buy decorations and some small gifts. Look out too for the caga tió (defecating log; the Catalans have a very scatological approach to life!)—this odd little creature is a log that is given a hat, face and legs. In Catalan homes on the days leading up to Christmas, children 'feed' the tió and on Christmas Day, they will dance around him, hitting him with sticks and singing a song asking that he defecate out his gifts. They are then sent out of the room, while parents hide gifts under a blanket that covers the tió's backside; once ready, the children come back out to see what delights the log has delivered them in this somewhat unorthodox version of Father Christmas filling stockings.
Fira de Nadal, Sagrada Familia 2010 : runs until December 23rd, every day from 10am to 9pm.
Fira de Santa Llúcia, Catedral 2010: also runs from December 3rd until December 23rd. 10.30am - 8.30pm Monday to Friday. 10.30am - 9.30pm Saturdays & Sundays. www.firadesantallucia.cat.
First published in December 2009. Updated November 2010.