It’s Christmas time everywhere, and so it is in Catalonia! Even though the Christmas party here is very similar to most English-speaking countries, there are some differences. We’ll explain to you here everything you need to know!
Important dates in the Catalan Christmas calendar
Christmas eve (the night of the 24th of December)
Even though Santa Claus is one of the most relevant figures of Christmas time, the Catalan tradition has another protagonist: the Tió. The Tió is a magical being made of a thick tree branch with a face, two front legs and its back covered with a blanket. Are we weird? Maybe. But keep scrolling to discover more. You’ll want to adopt this tradition too!
People prepare their Tiós in early December and leave them until Christmas is over. During that period, the Tiós need to eat. Kids feed them periodically with clementines, chocolate and cookies.
On the night of the 24th, everyone gathers around the Tió with a stick in their hand. Then, it’s time to hit it while singing the song:
“Caga Tió, Tió de Nadal, no caguis arengades que són salades, caga torrons que són molt bons”
Which means something like:
“Poo Tió, Christmas Tió, don’t poo herrings as they’re savory, poo nougat as it’s delicious”
After that, people lift the blanket and uncover all the gifts that have magically appeared. Gifts are usually sweets, socks or sweet coal, a Spanish candy with a crunchy texture and a pleasant almond flavour.
Christmas day and Sant Esteve (the 25th and 26th of December)
These two days are dedicated to the family. We celebrate the Christian festivity in the form of long and succulent meals. Among the most traditional food we eat those days, we can find:
- Sopa de Galets: the most popular dish in the Catalan houses during the 25th of December. It’s a soup made with meat and vegetable broth, but the unique thing is that it also contains pasta with a snailed shape.
- Trinxat: boiled and mashed cabbage and potato with pork meat. In Catalan, trinxat means mashed.
- Canelons: usually eaten in Sant Esteve, canelons are made with cylindrical pasta filled with meat and covered with bechamel and cheese. These were eaten on the 26th because they were originally made with the leftovers of the 25th.
- Torrons: typical dessert during Christmas. They’re nougats made of a huge variety of ingredients. The most popular ones are made of chocolate with almonds, toasted egg yolk, or honey and almonds.
- Polvorons: another traditional dessert. It’s a round shortbread made of flour, sugar, milk, and nuts, especially almonds. They can also have different flavours such as coconut, chocolate or almond.
- Neules: another typical dessert eaten during Christmas. It’s a type of biscuit consisting of a very thin sheet made with eggs, butter, sugar and flour, and then rolled. It has a vanillic flavour. Besides the typical ones, you can also find them covered with a chocolate layer. We usually eat the neules with cava (Catalan champagne) and often dip them into the cava.
If you come to Catalonia during Christmas time, please try all of them!
The Magic Kings (6th of January)
Unlike other countries, Christmas time in Catalonia doesn’t finish with the beginning of the new year. On the 6th of January, we celebrate the arrival of the Three Kings of Orient. These three kings visited Jesus after he was born to bring him gold, incense and myrrh. The three kings are Melcior (white beard), Gaspar (brown beard) and Baltasar (no beard and dark skin).
On the evening of the 5th of January, a parade takes place in every city of Catalonia, with trucks full of gifts for everyone. You’ll see mineworkers who make carbon for those who haven’t behaved well enough, pages who collect the letters the kids have written to the Kings with the gifts they want, and finally the coaches with the kings themselves. During the parades, the different characters throw sweets at the people watching and greeting them. Don’t forget to bring a bag to collect them if you go to see a parade. And careful with your head!
Like Santa Claus, the Three Kings fly with their magic camels on the 5th of January at night to bring gifts to everyone. On the 6th of January, when the family wakes up, the presents are waiting under the Christmas tree.
After the Magical Kings have arrived and all the presents have been unwrapped, a family lunch usually comes after. As a dessert, we eat a special doughnut-shaped cake called the Tortell de Reis.
The funny thing about this cake is that there’s a broad bean and a small figure of a king hidden in it. Everyone should have a slice of the cake without looking at the inside. While eating it, someone will find the broad bean, and someone will have the king. The tradition says that the one with the broad bean must pay for the Tortell, whereas the one that has found the king will be crowned king for that day.
Another tradition is to set up the Pessebre along with the Christmas tree. The Pessebre consists of a representation of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. However, the Catalan ones have a peculiar figure on it: a man pooing as part of the citizens in the scene. Even though it seems fun and silly, it represents the process of fertilisation of the soil for the following year.
The caganer (literally the pooing man) has become so famous that nowadays you can find almost every famous personality or fictional character represented as the caganer.
Those are our main traditions. If you happen to be here and experience any of them, leave your thoughts in the comments!