11 Facts about Christmas traditions in Catalonia

Caga Tio market stall, Barcelona, Spain. Christmas traditions in Catalonia

11 Facts about Christmas traditions in Catalonia


Christmas tree - Wikipedia

image: Wikipedia

.Understand the basics

When is the main celebration: 24th/25th December

Main dish: sopa de galets (soup), torró (turon/nougat)

Main decorations: nativity scene (pessebre), Christmas tree

Who brings the presents: Tió de Nadal, The Three Wise Men (els Reis Mags)

How to say “Merry Christmas”: Bon Nadal




If you have ever been to Catalonia, you probably know that Catalan people are very proud of their cultural heritage and that’s not without reason. They have plenty of interesting traditions that are not found anywhere else in the world. Since we’ve been living in Barcelona for over 3 years and it has become our third home (after our home countries), we’d like to show you some really interesting traditions celebrated during the Christmas period.

Christmas Traditions in Catalonia


1.  The most traditional (dating back to the 4th century) Christmas decoration in Catalonia is the nativity scene (pessebre). Families prepare it at the beginning of December or right before Christmas, often painting the figurines themselves. There are plenty of shops and market stalls in Barcelona where you can find all the elements you might need to build a praiseworthy nativity scene. The figurine of Baby Jesus is put in his crib on Christmas Eve.

2. You won’t find a Christmas tree in every Catalan house.

Christmas tree on Placa Jaume, Barcelona, Spain

Christmas tree on Placa Jaume, Barcelona

3. You might be surprised to learn that in Catalonia it’s not Santa Claus, Father Christmas or Baby Jesus who bring presents, but a cheeky log wearing a traditional Catalan hat, which you have to hit with a stick in order to make it “drop” you some gifts. It’s called Tió de Nadal (“Christmas Log”) but its popular nickname is “Caga Tió(“Shitting Log”).

Before the main Christmas celebrations Tió is brought home, fed and covered with a warm blanket. On Christmas Day or Christmas Eve (depending on the household) children are supposed to leave the room and pray for Tió to brings them some gifts (while their parents use this perfect opportunity to put something underneath the blanket). When the kids come back, they are supposed to hit it with a stick while singing a traditional song which apparently makes the Tió shit out some presents.

The song goes as follows:

“Caga tió,
caga torró,
avellanes i mató,
si no cagues bé
et daré un cop de bastó.
caga tió!”
shit, log,
shit nougats (turrón),
hazelnuts and mató cheese,
if you don’t shit well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
shit, log!

Or alternatively:

“Caga tió,
tió de Nadal,
no caguis arengades,
que són massa salades
caga torrons
que són més bons!”
shit, log,
log of Christmas,
don’t shit herrings,
which are too salty,
shit nougats (turrón)
which are much better!

4. Another peculiar tradition related with “shitting” is the figurine a caganer – a man with his trousers round his ankles, captured in the act of defecation, which is put together with Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus in the nativity scene.  This tradition dates back to 17th century (the times of exaggerated realism) and symbolises fertility and prosperity in the following year. Nowadays it is popular to decorate your nativity scene with “shitting” figures of celebrities or politicians.

5. On the night of Christmas Eve, the more religious Catalans go to church to celebrate Missa del gall (the midnight mass, which literally means the mass of a cockerel).

6. On Christmas Day Catalan families have their traditional meal. As the first course they usually serve the customary sopa de galets (a meat and vegetable broth with a meatball and huge snail-shaped pasta inside). As the second dish it is common to eat roast veal or chicken. Some families prefer seafood, though. The dessert of choice is usually turrón (nougat), marzipan, accompanied by some muscat or cava.

7. Boxing Day is called Sant Esteve (St. Stephen’s Day) in Catalonia . It is customary to visit your relatives and eat cannelloni, which uses the leftovers of the Christmas dinner meat. For dessert they would normally have some more turrón and wafers (neules). If you are a kid, you are likely to recite a typical Boxing Day poem in front of your relatives.

“Sóc petitet així
no conec ningú
només el papa, la mama,
les neules i els torrons.
I aquí tinc una butxaqueta
per ficar-hi calerons!!!”
I’m so tiny
I do not know anyone
only daddy, mummy,
wafers and nougats.
And here I have a little pocket
to put money in there!!!

8. On 28th December Catalans and the Spanish celebrate the Massacre of the Innocents (dia dels Sants Innocent), which in their culture is the equivalent of the April’s Fool Day. On that day people play jokes and pranks on others, you are likely to hear fake news on TV and it’s common to stick paper dolls on passer-bys’ backs, which is known as llufa.

Llufa - photo by Wikipedia - Christmas traditions in Catalonia

Llufa – photo by Wikipedia

9. On the New Year’s Eve, people in Catalonia as in the rest of Spain eat 12 grapes as the clock-towers strike their bells 12 times before midnight.

10. In Catalan tradition Christmas period continues until the Epiphany (6th January). On that day Catalan families gather around the table and eat the traditional tortell de Reis (King’s cake) an o-shaped pastry which contains two hidden surprises: a dried bean, and a tiny figurine of one of the three kings. The person who finds the king in their cut of cake, gets to wear the paper crown. The person who finds the dried bean is considered unlucky and has to pay for the tortell.

Tortell - the King's Cake - photo by ifood tv - Christmas traditions in Catalonia

Tortell – the King’s Cake – photo by ifood.tv

11. It is also on that day (El dia de Reis, the Day of the Kings) when the Three Wise Men visit Catalan houses and leave the abundant Christmas gifts for children. In this respect the Epiphany is celebrated even more than Christmas Day.

Massive thanks to all my students who helped me gather all the traditions!

written by: Ania

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  • This is a very interesting post about Christmas in Catalonia. The family traditions sound nice; however, I am not sure I like the whole emphasis on “shitting” or hitting things to get gifts!

  • Carles Padro-Solanet i Grau

    I want to make a clarification. The figurine of caganer is one more of catalan nativity scene.
    The nativity scene, have the essential figures of baby Jesus, the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, the angel announcing the birth, the Kings of the East who brought gifts to the infant Jesus and the shepherds also they went adore him. In the Catalan nativity scenes, perhaps centuries ago, someone thought that one of these shepherds, wanted to go belly, he obviously deviate from the road and hid behind some bushes, rocks … for your needs …
    This figurine is present in all escenenes nativity of Catalonia and as it is hidden, children seek until they find, and this makes them laugh.
    Today, this figurine has been gaining prominence can be with the influx of tourists, and has come out of its original context.