Barcelona Christmas Fair Part 1: Catalan Traditions and Symbols

What a busy weekend it was for me!

We went to Barcelona for the Christmas market, the Fira de Santa Llúcia. It was named after Saint Lucy who is the patron saint of eyesight.

Fira de Santa Llúcia photo by

The fair dates back to the 18th century. According to historical accounts, on 13 December 1786, feast day of St. Lucy, there were people praying and celebrating Mass in the Cathedral in honor of the saint and of the Blessed Virgin. Meanwhile, several stands outside were selling Nativity cribs as well as clay and cardboard figurines and images of saints, shepherds, animals and so on.

Sta. Lucia photo by

It has been organized annually without interruption since then.

Fira de Santa Llúcia photo by

Now on its 227th year, it is the oldest fair dedicated to Nativity scenes and Christmas traditions. The Nativity scene is called pessebre in Catalan.

Nativity shop photo by

A lot of things changed over the years. For instance, the “green stands” or those selling moss, cork bark and other plants are no longer put up separately on the steps of the Cathedral. Such was the case in the 19th century. 

Fira de Santa Llúcia photo by

In need of some stroke of luck? Then head over to the fair. The place is bursting with mistletoe arranged as “bouquets of luck.” Most are placed in cellophane wrap tied with red and yellow striped ribbons symbolizing the Senyera or the Catalan flag. 

Bouquets of luck photo by

In Catalan tradition, it is believed that the mistletoe “gave fertility to livestock, made cows produce milk, encouraged the first teeth in infants, cured cases of poisoning, and swept away lighting.”

Yes, like magic.

Bouquets of luch photo by

We have no farm animals suffering from fertility issues. But, hey, the mistletoe is still a pretty decorative item. We decided to get a bouquet in a handmade ceramic basket. Brown and yellow (and green) is typical of Catalan pottery.

Bouquets of luck photo by

Noticed that sprig of wheat with the mistletoe? There is another occasion in Catalunya where the wheat is present. During la diada de Sant Jordi (or the feast of St. George), it is customary for a man to give a long-stemmed rose with a sprig of wheat  to his wife, girlfriend or mother. In return, the woman gives him a book.

But I digress.

Halloween is not the only time when witches take center stage. In some parts of Spain, the witch, also called bruixa in Catalan or bruja in Spanish, is considered a bearer of good fortune which gives her a special place during the Christmas season, too.

Lucky plant plus lucky witch? That’s a lot of luck!

Lucky witches photo by

Some believe that it is lucky to whisper to the witch the numbers that you will bet on for the national Christmas lottery in Spain.

I did not find any reference, however, that shows this belief in lucky witches as Catalan in origin. Perhaps, this has been adopted from the autonomous communities of Galicia and Asturias in northern Spain.

Lucky witches photo by

But the most popular Christmas symbol in the region of Catalonia – at least in my opinion – has nothing to do with luck. The Tió de Nadal (which means “Christmas log”) or Caga tió is a wooden log with a red hat called baretina. Until the 19th century, the men in Catalonia especially those in the rural areas wore baretinas. These days, it is worn during traditional celebrations.

caga tio 1

Is pink the new red? I didn’t get the memo :)

Caga tió photo by

Now, how one treats the Caga tió is probably the most confusing thing ever. Days before Christmas, the Caga tió is given tender loving care: he’s “fed” every night and covered in a blanket to keep him warm.

Then on Christmas Eve, the poor thing is beaten with sticks to make him, out of fear, “defecate” small gifts like candies and nuts. 

Caga tió photo by

In the past, he is even placed partially in the fireplace until he “poops” presents. There are also songs for the family to sing to make the tió “defecate.”

And that, my friends, explains why it is called such. Caga tió literally means “shitting log.”

At this point, I would like to emphasize the importance of putting the stress on the right syllable. Tió (accent on the last syllable) means log while tío (accent on the first syllable) means uncle. It’s the “crapping” tió that you want for Christmas, not the other one.

Anyway, I think I will keep my Caga tió safe and sound under his blanket until the season is over. He may be just a piece of log but I can’t hit a log with a smiling face :) 

The fair opened last November 30 and will end on December 23. If you’re planning to drop by, you won’t get lost. You will find it where it had always been year after year: on the Cathedral Square.

fira 3

Watch for Part 2 of my Barcelona Christmas Fair experience; I will be talking about the pessebre plus a few artisans whose works caught my attention. Til then!

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