From human towers to Christmas poo - Catalonia and its unusual traditions

Christmas logs, human towers and sweet festivals - Catalonia's unusual traditions

These figures are called caganer

Friday, October 13, 2017

Unless you've been living under a rock over the last couple of week, or you've been binging solidly on Liar and Doctor Foster, you'll know that Catalonia is on the verage of inependence from Spain.

Plenty of people have expounded the reasons for Catalonia's desire for secession (we did it ourselves in a helpful video, which you can watch here) but some aspects of the narrative appear to have been seriously under-played.

Like, for example, just how bonkers some of those Catalan folk are.

If you thought Britain was strange, with its love of flat beer, false politeness and games that require sunny weather to play, we've got nothing on our cousins from down by the Mediterranean.

Catalonia has all manner of weird and wonderful traditions. In fact it's hard to whittle them down to a 'top five' list. But somehow we've managed it, and here it is.

Christmas poo

At Christmas you might think of Santa, but for Catalans they think of poo. Ok this tradition doesn't actually involve real faeces, but apparently they think Christmas presents come out of a tree like poop.

In early December Catalans set up a log and give it a face and a hat, not forgetting that it also has legs of course. The official name of the log is tio de nadal (Christmas uncle), but it is nicknamed caga tio - meaning poo uncle.

The log is then covered with a blanket and fed daily, until Christmas day when the log is hit with a stick (we're not quite sure why either), then the blanket is lifted and, behold, the log has pooed out Christmas gifts.

Pooey toys

It seems Catalans are apparently a little obsessed with poop as they also have a type of pocelain figurine called the caganer, this translates as "the pooing one." Essentially they take famous people and create figurines of them with their trousers down and yes, they do look like they're going to the toilet.

The figures are even used in nativity scenes apparently, but we don't think that will catch on over here.

Climbing on top of one another

Apart from poo, Catalans also love a good human tower. In fact they really, really love a good human tower.

There are even regional competitions where people attempt to make the highest tower possible. Towers are often created at festivals, but for them to be valid a child has to climb to the top and raise one arm, holding up four fingers. This sounds really dangerous (and it is, a bit) but the child always wears a helmet, and those at the bottom are on to catch anyone who falls.

Awwww, sweet

Ok, this one is actually quite nice.

Like British people, Catalans celebrate St George's day. Except, over there, he's called St Jordi (a literal translation of the name George). 

Like us, the Catalans unfurl the white flag with the red cross to celebrate St Jordi's day on April 23. But, whereas our 'celebrations' are generally restricted to going down the pub, our friends over in the Barcelona are do something far more romantic. In fact, it's a bit like Valentine's Day.

Couples typically exchange gifts. Women are given roses and men, in return, get books. Go to Catalonia in mid-April and you'll see all manner of little fairs selling books for anxious girlfriends. 

It's all very sweet, you think, those Catalans must be a lovely people. And then you remember their weird fetish for poo.

Medieval traditions

If you thought us Brits like our traditions, just take a look at the Catalans. They're mad for their history, particularly the Medieval stuff. 

It's hard to put into words just how madly they love the Medieval period, but, suffice to say, Warhammer does a roaring trade. Amateur enthusiasts regularly take part in mock battles and ruins from the Middle Ages are lovingly preserved - in fact parts of Game of Thrones have been filmed there.

The sweetest thing

They love their food over in Catalonia, and most people seem to have a sweet tooth.

Catalonia has an annual festival called La Festa de Sant Medir every year on March 3, better known as Barcelona’s sweetest festival. This involves a procession of horses being ridden and the riders throw 60 tonnes of boiled sweets to children.

This comes from a legend that a baker said he would go on a pilgrimage every year if god made him well again. He did indeed get better and used to throw beans as he went on the pilgrimage, so it's probably a good job they changed the idea to sweets, as we're not quite sure how many children would be interested otherwise.

Pitchers of wine

Last but not least, this one sounds fairly normal, but there is a tradition of drinking it out of a porron, which looks like a pitcher with a spout. The idea is to hold it as far away from yourself as possible but still manage to pour the wine into your mouth.

It sounds ace... but if you get it wrong, the potential for embarrassment is huge.