Catalonia is a bit different from other Spanish and european cultures when talking about Christmas, but why?

Nonetheless Spain celebrates a number of the identical holiday customsas the rest of Europe, but here in Barcelona, there are also particular traditions uniqueto Catalonia.

In fact, we are used to thinking of Santa Claus as the main Christmas figure during the holiday period. And no matter where you come from, the traditions most likely include this one bringing presents to your kids on a Christmas morning.

We will probably surprise you if we say that Catalans have a very different approach to the Christmas celebrations. And these are the main customs that you may need to know about to spend the Christmas holidays like a real local.

The Unique Days During the Holiday Season

You may think that the holiday period here in Catalonia extends out longer than what many places are used to . That’s due to the 6th of January: “The Epiphany “, one of the most important holidays all around Spain and some other European countries.

A brief mention of the important days throughout the winter holidays will include :

La Immaculada, or the Immaculate Conception. It may not be really known as a special occasion. Even though it is an acknowledged holiday and is historically known as the initial day of the festive season.

Nit de Nadal , or Christmas Eve. This really is a day of family and feasting . Additionally it is one of small gifts from one of the most adored Catalan Christmas figures: The Tió de Nadal or Caga tió.

purple fountain in Barcelona on christmas

Nadal , or Christmas day , is the one other occasion of a big dinner with relatives . Though not common of Catalonia or Spain , some families currently will recognize Santa Claus . Christmas time culture in Barcelona have adapted to be more European these days .

Sant Esteve , or Saint Stephen’s Day . Definitely , this drops on the day after Christmas which is also a holiday here in Catalonia . Generally , people munch cannelloni at home , made out of the leftovers of Christmas lunch .

Cap d’Any , or New Years , is simply as huge as in the rest of the world. Suprisingly however don’t expect fireworks in the Catalan capital .

Reis , or 3 Kings Day (more information below), falls annually on the 6th of January . You find a parade , and the little ones commonly open gifts delivered to them by the different kings .

Since we have the central days figured , within the christmas season , keep your focus for these extra Christmas traditions in Barcelona .

Caga Tió

One of the most important Christmas traditions in Catalan culture is the Tió de Nadal (“Christmas Log” in English). Also known as simply Tió or Tronca, it is basically a Catalan equivalent to the well-known Papa Noel. This character is very widespread in all Catalonia and in some regions of Aragon.

The strange on the first sight tradition dates back many centuries when the log was burned in the fireplace to give light, shelter and warmth. That was the greatest gift at that time. This element of the tradition of placing a log in your house to simply burn in when the holiday comes evolved into what it is now.

The contemporary Tió is justa hollow wooden log with eyes and a painted nose. He also wears a red barretita, a traditional hat that men in the Christian culture wore until the 19th century. It also has two or four stick legs and a big smile.

Walking by the streets during the holiday season, you can find those at every corner in all the possible sizes. You can buy one and even follow the tradition along with the Catalan families.

Tió de Nadal
Tió de Nadal

So, some decades ago, in most of the houses, people would go outside, find a piece of wood and paint a face on it. And on the Christmas Eve, families would put the Tió partly into the fireplace to make it “defecate” the gifts that they had prepared for their children.

These days starting on the 8th of December, the day of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Catalonian kids place the Tió at home, cover it with a blanket and give it something to eat it every night during the month.

The whole point of this process is to make it warm, feed it and basically take good care of it until the very Christmas day. The parents usually replace the Tió for a bigger one from time to time making it look like it is growing.

The fully grown Tió is then placed in the center of the room, and children gather around it, singing songs and hitting the log with sticks. If they “do good job”, they get their presents.

The song that the kids sing usually goes like this:

“Caga tió, caga torró,
avellanes i mató,
si no cagues bé
et daré un cop de bastó.
caga tió!”

Caga-tios’ Song

If we translate it into English, that would actually mean asking the log to defecate nougats, hazelnuts and cheese (yeah, sounds weird), and threatening to hit it more if it doesn´t give enough of it.

The parents usually find a moment to put the gifts under the blanket that the Tió is covered with.Those gifts that the character brings are usually small presents from the whole family. The bigger and more serious presents are given later and come from los “Reyes Magos” (The Three Wise Men), another important tradition for the Catalan culture.

Whereas Santa arrives down the chimney with a big bag of toys, and also the three kings ride in on a shiny carriage loaded with gifts, the cagatió, relieves himself of his Christmas delights usually on Christmas Eve or Christmas day.

The Caganer

Another weird tradition in the Catalan Christmas culture is the Caganer. It basically is a feature of the nativity scene that you only see in this region. It is a figure of a Catalan man that is wearing traditional Catalan clothes. He is squatting with his trousers around his ankles and pooing.

This weird custom has been around since the very 18th century. His poo is basically a sign of good luck. This comes from believing that it fertilizes the earth and ensures a good harvest for the upcoming year.

In fact, during XVII century, Spain monarchy was decaying. During that period Felipe II just started conflicts for whose expenses he had drawn mainly on the precious metals of the American colonies. Now, that these resources were exhausted, the spanish economy needed to depend still on breeding and large expanses of uncultivated land.

This is why the caganer was considered as a lucky gift: he could have tourned that uncultivated lands into perfectly fertilized lands!

You can find a figure of the Caganer everywhere in the city during the holiday season. Since it is such a funny custom, they now make those with faces of politicians, celebrities and other famous figures.

The Caganer figures

Christmas Sweets

Spanish bakeries and pastry shops still function on a seasonal , and you can count on discover them all stocked with special treats for the holiday season. A tough nougat bar called turrón is the most favorite across Spain. Consider to try also the softer version, made out of almond paste and egg yolk, or the versatile chocolate version.

One other specialty is the neules, or cylindric wafers, that is also a typical gift of the aforementioned cagatió. During the Christmas season, many shops make them in-house, and are beyond delicious. They also never look the same way. Try the chocolate dipped ones for extra indulgence.

If you’re interested about having information about all the other food traditions of Catalonia you should read this article.

Spanish Christmas Lottery

One of the longest-running and biggest lotteries worldwide: “El Gordo“, an important Christmas tradition throughout almost all Spain. People generally buy tickets in groups with colleagues or with friends, despite the fact that nobody actually expects to make profit out of it.

The Wisemen, or 3 Kings, Parade

Though other traditions like Christmas trees or Santa Claus have slowly crept into Spain, the Three Kings still are the key part of the winter holidays for families with children. You can find parades all throughout the country.

Barcelona’s, the cavalcada de reis mags, is very special in that they arrive by boat. Think of it as if from a child’s point of view, it is indeed really awesome.

In the wake of docking in Port Vell, the Magi make their rounds all through the old downtown area. At the same time, waving to the whole citizens of Barcelona who turn out in the city to welcome them.

This day, people also appreciate a tasty “tortell de reis”, or “kings cake“, a round, stuffed cake that generally has some surprise inside.

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