Come Christmas time, a popular activity here in Catalonia is the creation of small nativity scenes for the home. The Christmas markets abound with miniature figurines of the main characters, as well as selling pieces of moss, straw and other natural materials which give the end result an altogether charming appearance. However, one of the most striking figures is the so-called caganer – literally meaning ‘the shitter’. This bare-bottomed figurine is crouched over to perform his most natural of functions and is considered an essential component of most traditional Catalan nativity scene builders.
If the caganer seemed hard to wrap your mind around, the cagatío is likely to bring things to whole new next level. Also present around Christmas time, the cagatío or ‘poo uncle’ is a wooden log which is invited into Catalan homes in the run up to Christmas and must be fed on a diet of orange peel and dried fruits. As Christmas Day approaches children must take extra care to look after their special guest as he will be the bearer of gifts if they treat him well. Come the day, children gather around the log which is cloaked in a rug before being beaten with a wooden stick and requested to present its gift. The log duly obliges and ‘poops’ gifts to the delight of everyone present.
If you peruse the menu at a traditional Catalan restaurant you may be surprised to come across non other than the Italian pasta known as cannelloni. In fact, canelons as they are called in Catalan, are an important part of the traditional Catalan cuisine and are especially common around Christmas time. These pasta tubes are typically stuffed with leftover meat from the Christmas meal and served on Boxing Day, which is celebrated locally as the day of Saint Stephen. The canelons are usually smothered in a creamy béchamel sauce and it’s not uncommon for there to be a few shavings of foie gras added to the mix.
Scared of heights? Then you might want to give this tradition a miss. The castellers are the brave men, women and crucially, children, who compete each year to create jaw-dropping human pyramids. This ancient tradition has been recognised by UNESCO as being one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity and is one of the most unique Spanish traditions. There are a number of possible configurations although what most have in common is the fact that the highest tier is usually composed of small children, sometimes as young as five.
When it comes to celebrations, the Catalans really know how to ignite the party, literally. The correfoc – meaning ‘fire-run’ in Catalan – is a procession during which locals dress as devils and other ghoulish monsters before setting off fireworks and sparklers to the amazement of the crowds. The result is an impressive shower of light and fire, which the locals know well how to protect themselves from, by wearing the right type of clothing. In larger processions there’s usually a safety barrier between the crowd but in smaller gatherings it’s not uncommon for those looking on to get involved and let themselves be taunted and teased by devils’ flames.