The Spanish seem to have some type of sweet bread for every occasion, whether Easter or Christmas, so naturally this is an important part of the holiday season and a great Spanish gift to bring back for your friends and family. The rosca or tortell, as it’s called in Catalan, is usually topped and filled with pieces of dried candied fruit, including orange, lemon peel, figs, and cherries. It can sometimes also be filled with whipped cream and marzipan.
A sweet nougat-like bar, turrón comes in many different kinds and flavors and is a favorite Spanish Christmas treat. The most traditional kind is made from almonds and can be soft and crumbly or hard and crunchy. These days, you can find every type of turrón from coconut to walnut. One of the best places to buy it is Torrons Vicens, which has shops in lots of major Spanish cities, with many in Catalunya.
Belén is the Spanish name for the town of Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, and is essentially a mini nativity scene, complete with baby Jesus, barn animals, and shepherds. Around Christmas time most Spanish families set up Beléns in their homes. You will also see them in town halls, schools, and even shop windows. Head to any Christmas market in Spain and you’ll be sure to find Belén figurines and sets for sale. In Seville, there’s even a whole Christmas market dedicated to the Belén.
Although not a tradition all over the country, Tió de Nadal or Caga Tió plays a big part in Catalan Christmases. Essentially a log with small wooden legs, a painted face, and a hat and blanket to cover its back, it’s especially important for children. Each night during the run up to Christmas, from the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th, children will feed their ‘pet’ Tió small pieces of turrón to ‘fatten’ it up for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. When it’s time, children take turns in hitting Tió with a stick and sing the Caga Tió song, telling Tió to pooh them out lots of sweets (which have been hidden under his blanket by the parents). You will find Caga Tiós for sale in most Christmas markets in Catalunya, as well as in flower shops.
The Spanish go in for Christmas ornaments in a big way and almost every town and city will celebrate the season with a Christmas market, where you’ll find a large array for sale. They are often more religiously themed than the popular snowmen, reindeer, and Santa Claus and may take the form of angels, stars, bells, and mini nativity scenes.
Another bizarre Catalan Christmas souvenir is the caganer, a small figurine of a man squatting down and pooing. You’ll often find the caganer hidden around the Beléns to symbolize the fertilization of the land. Today however, caganers have been taken to a new level, with these small figurines being sold in shops and Christmas markets across Catalunya. They are particular popular Christmas souvenirs from Barcelona, where you’ll even find whole stalls dedicated to them. Here, not only will you find the traditional caganer squatting down with his black trousers and floppy red hat, but also famous people, from football players to Bob Marley and even the Queen of the UK.
Mantecados are another classic Spanish Christmas treat —— crumbly, powdery biscuits, simply made from lard, cornflour, and sugar. Dating back to the 16th century, many believe they originated in Andalucia. Today, some of the best mantecados can be found in the small town of Estepa, just over 100 kilometers west of Seville, where there are many factories and also, a mantecado museum.