Category Archives: Catalan traditions

A Little Elaboration on Nadal de Catalunya

I have a couple guest letters coming on Christmas, but while we wait for said¬†guests to get their acts together ūüėõ I must partake in¬†my annual¬†tradition of teasing Josep about his own culture’s extremely strange Christmas traditions. ūüėÄ

Those of you who were following the blog from its infancy probably saw the post I made last Christmas about how Josep introduced me to the tradition of caga-tió. Here is that video he sent me again, for those of you who missed it. It makes me giggle uncontrollably every time I see it.

Well, my unsuspecting friends, there is more.

By Roeland P. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Roeland P. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

How do I even begin to explain this.

No, the picture above is not of a crude figurine for a ten-year-old boy. It is the, um, unique Catalan addition to traditional nativity scenes. Believe it or not, the, ah, act portrayed here symbolizes good fortune and fertility. Hence the caga-tió, too. This figurine is called the Caganer, which means exactly what you think it means.

Moving right along, as some of you may know, Christmastide in Spain is a month-long bonanza, starting from the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8th)¬†and ending with Three King’s Day (January 6th). Christmas decorations and preparations begin on December 8th, including the preparation of the caga-ti√≥–which has the, um, treats¬†beaten out of it on Christmas Eve (December 24th). The biggest festive meal is also on Christmas Eve, though the feasting continues through Christmas Day (December 25th).

In Catalonia, St. Stephan’s Day (the Feast of San Estaban–December 26th) is also celebrated with a festive meal, apparently because all those Catalan mothers wanted something to do with all their leftovers from the feasts of the previous two¬†days. (No, really. The traditional food is canneloni, made of pasta stuffed with the meat left over from the previous meals.)

December 28th is the feast of Los Santos Inocentes, and the Internets inform me that this is the Spanish equivalent to April Fools’ Day, where people play pranks and practical jokes on each other. The day is in commemoration of children who were killed by King Herod around the time of Jesus’s birth. (I don’t know about this story, but I wouldn’t put anything past King Herod, who happens to have been buried very close to where I live. He was a paranoid crazy dude.)

Next, of course, comes New Years’ Day,¬†and you probably know all about that.

Then there’s Three Kings’ Day. This day celebrates the three wise men¬†who, according to the Christian¬†Bible, brought gifts to baby Jesus after he was born: gold, myrrh, and frankincense. They have traditionally been remembered as being kings, though the Christian Bible does not say so specifically.

On January 5th, there is a procession¬†that begins at the Barcelona port, as the “three kings” arrive and then parade through the city. Instead of stockings for Santa Claus, children leave out their shoes for the Three Kings; and instead of cookies and milk, they leave out water for the kings’ camels. (Ever the practical people! Why does no one seem to worry about Santa Claus’s reindeer?!) Similarly to the Santa Claus tradition, children write letters to the kings about whether they have been good or bad.

Looks familiar, right? "Reyes Magos en centro comercial" by Fernando Estel - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.
Looks familiar, right? I suspect they got those beards from the same supplier as Santa Claus… “Reyes Magos en centro comercial” by Fernando EstelOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

On the morning of January 6th, they are given their gifts, and Three Kings’ Day is celebrated with a final festive meal.

Now I have to say, as a blasphemous Jesus-killer1¬†ūüėõ , the concept of the children getting gifts from the three kings makes a¬†lot more sense than Santa Claus. But no one asked me, and it’s probably good that they didn’t!

If you find my attempts to explain Catalan traditions amusing, you might like to see my post about St. Jordi’s Day¬†too. ūüėõ

Bon Nadal, to all, big and small, and I better stop with all this Christian nonsense and start cooking for Shabbat before I start to crank out more¬†corny bilingual Christmas poetry! ūüėõ


1. …Since I never know who’s reading… this is a joke. The Jews did not kill Jesus. See “The Great Post of Jewish Conspiracies!‚Ü©

St. Jordi’s Day, as Explained by an American-Israeli Jew

…Yes, it is Israeli Independence Day. (Whee!)

Blue food coloring, anyone?
Blue food coloring, anyone?

But it just so happens that this year (2015), it coincides with¬†a holiday that is celebrated in a distinct way in Catalonia. Since I already described Yom Ha’Atzma’ut to you, I’m going to give Josep a good laugh, and attempt¬†to explain about¬†La Diada de Sant Jordi, a.k.a.,¬†St. Jordi’s Day.

So. What is St. Jordi’s Day? Well… it’s kind of the Catalan Valentine’s Day. Only with dragons. And Shakespeare.

…Stay with me here.

Let’s take it¬†from the top:¬†“Jordi” is the Catalan version of the name George. Ahhh, the Catholics say. Right. April 23rd is St. George’s Day. St. George is apparently a pretty popular saint, because aside from being the patron saint of England, he was also the patron saint of Aragon¬†(and Catalonia. They were sort of the same thing at the time. Except not. Iberian history is terribly confusing). Peter I of Aragon declared¬†him thus when he won an important battle under St. George’s¬†patronage. I guess no one told him the Brits had dibs on ol’ George five hundred years prior.¬†Well actually a lot of people/cities/countries apparently missed that memo, from Beirut to the Boy Scouts. Like I said. Popular.

Speaking of lack of creativity, because St. Jordi is so popular in Catalonia, approximately 99.7% of Catalan males are¬†named Jordi. (…Okay, that assertion is patently false. Point is, it’s a very popular name,¬†kind of equivalent to John in the USA or, I dunno, David¬†in Israel.)

So why does the dude have so many fans? Not very clear. As a historical figure there isn’t very much known about him. The legend that is popular in Catalonia goes something like this: so there’s this dragon, right, and there’s this village, and for some reason they aren’t getting along. (Something about poisoning the air? Or getting in the way of a well? There are a few different versions…)¬†So the villagers need to sacrifice sheep to appease said dragon, or maybe the dragon was stealing their livestock, or they have to distract him away from the well. Anyhow, when they run out of sheep they start using young maidens. (A fairly natural progression, apparently. Personally I might have tried chocolate cake first, but no one asked me.)¬†So one day the maiden chosen is the princess, and she sets off to meet her fate,¬†but in the nick of time–cue victorious music–along comes St. Jordi on his white horse and slays the dragon with his sword! Or was it a lance?

Reggio_calabria_icona_san_giorgio_martire
Yeah, that looks like a lance.

In any event, the dragon’s blood flows to the earth and from it, a single red rose blossoms. St. Jordi picks the rose and gives it to the princess. The princess and the town are thus converted to Christianity and everyone lives happily ever after!

(…Wait.)

Anyway, somehow the entire point of the story being about the princess and the town converting¬†got glossed over, and the giving of the rose was sort of reinterpreted as a romantic gesture (though,¬†one might note,¬†St. Jordi didn’t actually marry her or anything). Thus, St. Jordi’s Day turned into “the day of lovers”, wherein men give roses–usually decorated with a sprig of wheat and/or the yellow and red stripes of the senyera, the¬†Catalan flag–to their ladies.

Aww.
By Jordi Payà Canals (CC BY SA 2.0). See, I told you they were all named Jordi.

(If you think¬†that’s a stretch, you should read up on¬†St. Valentine.)

But wait, there’s more!

April 23rd¬†also happens to be the deathdate of two very important and famous writers: William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes. The first to make the connection between April 23rd and books were apparently Catalan vendors in the 1920’s, in honor of¬†Cervantes, and because hey, all the ladies are getting roses because of St. Jordi and the dead dragon, don’t we gentlemen deserve a gift too? I like what you did there, Catalans. UNESCO apparently thought this was a pretty awesome idea too and decided to make April 23rd World Book Day in the 1990’s.

And that is how St. Jordi’s Day became Catalonia’s “love” holiday, which is celebrated by the exchange of roses and books among lovers and friends. And also by hanging Catalan flags everywhere and selling and eating food decorated with¬†its red and yellow stripes. Because, any excuse.

See, here you've got your roses, your books, and your senyera--the Catalan flag. By Fransesc_2000 (CC BY SA 2.0)
See, here you’ve got your roses, your books, and your senyera.
By Fransesc_2000 (CC BY 2.0). Okay, fine, some of them are named Fransesc. Or Josep. Or whatever. ūüėõ

(…Look, as far as sweet¬†cultural traditions go, it sure beats¬†caga-ti√≥. ūüėõ )

(…Pun not intended. Ugh.)

Yom¬†Atzma’ut Sameach, Feli√ß Diada de Sant Jordi, and Happy World Book Day!

…Just don’t start barbecuing books, or exchanging Israeli flags with your lover, or mixing up your blue-and-white/red-and-yellow icing on your cookies, or… yeah.

Yeah, um, no, guys. That would be the Venezuelan flag.
Yeah, um, no, guys. That would be the Venezuelan flag.

(If you¬†read through this whole entry asking¬†yourself, what the heck is this Catalan language, flag, and culture you’re talking about?!¬†Here ya go.)