Dec 13 2012

Caganers and canelons: Christmas in Catalonia

Author: Maria Milia Isasa, Project administrator, LSE Enterprise

As in all countries Christmas is a fun and familiar celebration in which we share long and huge lunches and a lot of presents. However, Catalonia has some unique and curious Christmas traditions.

Caganer

It is typical of Catalonia to put a feature known as ‘caganer’ in the nativity scene (public domain image from Wikipedia)

It is traditional in most of the houses to set the nativity scene, called ‘pessebre’, which represents the stable in Bethlehem where the Baby Jesus was born. Moreover, it is typical of Catalonia to put a feature known as ‘caganer’ in the nativity scene. It is a figure of a Catalan man wearing traditional Catalan clothes that is squatting with his trousers around his ankles and defecating. His poo is seen as a sign of good luck as it fertilizes the earth and ensures a good harvest for the coming year.

One of the most popular figure of Christmas is ‘tió de Nadal’ which is a piece of trunk of about thirty centimetres length. The ‘tió’ usually arrives at the beginning of December and it is a tradition to give him some food and cover him with a blanket until the 24th December evening or 25th December noon. Then all the children of the family surround the trunk and start beating him with sticks in order to make him “poo” presents while singing various typical songs. We usually make four or five rounds and when there is nothing to “poo” he drops potatoes, onions or a head of garlic. Sometimes some coal can also appear, which means that you haven’t been as well-behaved as expected during the year.

Straightaway all the relatives sit around the table and eat and relish characteristic Christmas handmade food. It is common to begin with a clear soup with ‘galets’ (pieces of pasta that look like snail shells), known as ‘escudella’. This is made with a large piece of meat and vegetables cooked for hours. After the starter, the meat and the vegetables used to cook the soup are eaten, known as the ‘carn d’olla’. Finally, when it seems that you are full we enjoy some popular Christmas desserts, for instance, different range of ‘turró’ (nougat with almonds, ‘xixona’, chocolate…), ‘neules’ and ‘polvorons’, which are sweets made from almond paste. All this is always served with plenty of wine and Catalan Cava. Indeed this is one of the most lavish meals of the Christmas period. Following the lunch the children have to recite a Christmas poem learnt in school and they receive some money from their relatives.

St. Stephen’s Day on December 26 is also a traditional day in Catalonia. We usually have a feast including ‘canelons’, which is pasta stuffed with ground meat.

Having had two consecutive lunches it is time to relax and wait for New Year’s Eve as well as the arrival of the Three Kings bearing gifts. On the evening of January 5 there is a parade through all cities in which people are dressed up as the Three Kings. They hand out sweets to the excited children who have already written a letter to the Three Kings telling them whether they have been well or badly behaved during the year and what they would like for Christmas. On January 6 the children awake very early to see what presents the kings have bought. As you might expect, this is followed by another family lunch in which the dessert is always the typical cake known as ‘tortell de Reis’.

This day signifies the final day of the Christmas period. A period in which all families gathered and all children enjoy the magic of Christmas.

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