Enchanting and Unusual Christmas Traditions in Barcelona

While Barcelona is known for its beachy weather and amazing sunshine, the city swings to a festive groove during the holidays. The local government puts the city’s best Christmas outfit on - from its avenues of sparkly lights to its spirited markets filled with Nativity scenes.

But like they say here “Catalonia is different”. And then local Christmas traditions are no exception. 

 The Caga Tió

The caga tió makes headlines when it comes to strange Christmas traditions around the world. Caga Tió, translates to “shit log”. That is, a log that poops presents on Christmas Eve to give to all the children. 

Starting on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the log enters the home, usually the living room. He’s a log perched on two smaller sticks. He wears a barretina hat and has a cozy blanket over him to stay warm. And he is always happy and smiling. 

Every night after dinner, the children of the home feed the tió with orange peels or whatever leftover fruit they have. They leave it next to him so he can eat it at night. They’re trying to feed him so he can produce enough “presents”. Amazingly, the tió manages to devour it all!

On Christmas day, the kids gather together and chant different caga tió songs like “caga tió, y turron” while hitting him on the back with small sticks. It helps him bear down and push the presents out. While they do this, they chant: 

“Poop, log,

poop nougats (turrón),

hazelnuts and mató cheese,

if you don't poop well,

I'll hit you with a stick,

poop, log!"

An adult stands there and pulls out presents under the blanket and gives the kids toys one by one. Usually, they're small toys like something you would find in a Christmas stocking. The larger toys are given on Three Kings’ Day.

The Caganer 

Another awesomely strange tradition typical of Catalonia is the caganer, a satirical figure of a peasant boy in a Nativity scene. He wears a white shirt, black pants, and a barretina hat. He’s crouching down with his pants lowered and has just defecated on the floor. The fresh, steamy poop is included too, just so we know.

Locals sometimes buy one every year to add to their Nativity Scene at home. Yet, it’s unclear where this beloved tradition came from. One theory is that it signifies the real, humanistic nature of such a momentous part of history, the birth of Baby Jesus.

Today, the caganer is not just the peasant boy but other figures like Obama, Madonna, David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldho, Cinderella, and pretty much anyone in popular culture. There are even caganers collectors clubs. You’ve got to keep up because new ones come out every year!

The Christmas Markets

The Feria de la Sagrada Familia — If you want to get buzzed on holiday spirit, stroll around the Fira de la Sagrada Familia. Apart from getting a spectacular view of the beloved cathedral right in front you. The fair occupies the plaza right in front of the church.  

You’ll see Christmas trees and decorations, Christmas figurines like the caganer and caga tió.  And who knew that Nativity Scenes could get so complicated? You’ll see dozens of stands selling these pessebres and all accessories that come with it — donkeys, stables, well-crafted trees made from moss, and copper pots as big as your thumbs.

Tips: Come here as early as you can if you truly want to shop. The narrow aisles get crowded, so expect a lot of elbowing going on. People often peruse the stalls and often stop to look at the caganers. 

If you get hungry, there are a few stands selling small food items like Nutella crepes. Or stop by the chestnut stand for some delicious smoking chestnuts in a paper cone. 

The Feria de Santa Llúcia

By far the biggest Christmas market in Barcelona, the Feria de Santa Llúcia has been around since 1786. It’s divided into categorical sections and takes up the whole plaza right in front of the Cathedral de Barcelona.

Like the Sagrada Familia fair, this popular market brings on huge numbers of visitors  because of its nativity scenes, Christmas decorations like mistletoe, evergreens, and beautiful artisanal crafts and gifts.

For the kids, a few can’t misses:

The Huge Caga Tió. Kids get to beat a massive caga tió on a stage. In small groups, the kids sing and hit the pooping log together. At the end, the each get to take home a few sweets.

The Carassa de Nadal. On the weekends, you can’t miss this fun procession. As shoppers make way along the aisles, locals push around a “big head”, while a band plays and marches behind him. The best part — he scares kids and spits out sweets.

The city lights

 There’s an excuse to get out of the home and into the cold — it’s to feel the Christmas ambiance outside the city streets. The main area is Plaça Catalunya, where the trees and the mega department store El Corte Ingles are dressed up in lights. Expect to see major streets decked out like Plaça del Angel, Las Ramblas, Gran Via, Rambla de Catalunya, and Passeig de Gracia, among others.

  

Three Kings' Parade

The Three Kings Parade is a much-anticipated event for the larger Barcelona. While every neighborhood has their own celebration, the main one is in the city centre. And it’s so huge that it’s a live televised event.

The three kings arrive from a boat in Barcelona, where tons are kids are there to welcome them. They then get on an open carriage, cruise the streets, and wave at the kids. Hundreds of people participate — kids, dancers, and people dressed up in costume throw small plastic-wrapped hard candy at the everyone. All in good fun!

So even though it’s just a wee bit colder during the Christmas season in Barcelona, the sun is usually shining. Now who can complain about that?

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