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 😛 I must partake in my annual tradition of teasing Josep about his own culture’s extremely strange Christmas traditions. 😀

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-tió–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 Sant Esteve–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 😛 , 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. 😛

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! 😛

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!

3 thoughts on “A Little Elaboration on Nadal de Catalunya

    1. Thank you! 🙂 I am far from an expert on this and have very little knowledge of the Christian Bible. But from what I understand, the original Greek of the gospel of Matthew (or at least, the oldest translation we have, which is in Greek) refers to these men as “magos.” A simple reading of the text reveals neither a specific number of “magos,” nor that they were royalty, but this has become the common understanding. I imagine that the translation of “wise men” was preferred because witchcraft is forbidden by the Bible, so scholars did not want to encourage the idea that they had magic powers or something. But that’s my own extrapolation. It’s interesting to think about why the original term was used and what it may have meant at the time.

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