Catalan Christmas

“I wanted to tell you about Catalan traditions, which are very different from the rest of Spain and not that well known. When I say Catalan traditions I mean those that originated in Cataluña, in the North of Spain. Um, I mean there are several that I can share because I grew up with them. One of them is, well, I grew up and I didn’t grow up, my family moved to Germany to work, but they made a point of telling us things from Cataluna when we were in Spain. So I was living them, but outside of Cataluna, I was living them in Germany. The first of them, which was very unique and weird to a certain extent, happens in the night of the 24th, so you have to think in the context of Santa. So kids, um, bring home, um, strange creatures made of wood, with four wooden legs, and then it has, you know, decorated with a red barentina, which is a red baret, and you bring that piece of wood in, and you generally put it next to a fire or next to a Christmas tree these days, and you cover it with a blanket so it’s comfortable and warm, and you feed it every morning. So the kids usually put some fruits or vegetables or candies, and they magically disappear during the day, so you’re kind of feeding that little creature. And then the night of the 24th, everyone gets together around it, and you know parents have to make sure that something is put underneath the blanket so it looks like it’s getting fatter and stronger as its eating. And the weird weird tradition is that you get a stick and the kids hit the little creature with the stick and you sing a little song in Catalan, and literally the pig “shits” the presents. So traditionally, it was more candies and little books, this day is a lot of parents are using it as Santa so kids are getting bigger and bigger presents and, then it depends on families, some families do it all at once, so the kids go to the kitchen and wet the stick and then they go back and they hit the piggy and all the presents come out at once, some families do it kid by kid, so as the kid gets the stick wet the parents make sure that underneath the blanket comes the present that is assigned for that kid, but it’s a very strange tradition in how it is delivered.”

Informant Analysis: “One thing that’s interesting about it too is that I grew up with it in my family because my dad is from Cataluna, my mom is not, but we did it in my dad’s side of the family, and I thought it was the normal thing in Spain, so when I was ten and I returned to Spain, I moved to Northern Spain and I talked about this and people looked at me as if I was crazy, you know, because they don’t do it over there and during Franco’s time during the dictatorship it was forbidden, so many kids of my generation grew up during Franco’s time and were not allowed to do that unless they were doing it in hiding at home, so for me something that was very normal was not necessarily for everyone.”

Analysis: I think this is a fun way to include the children in the present giving process, because they are “feeding” the small animal that they create, so they have a part in it. Usually the parents are the ones buying and giving the presents, so this way its more of a group effort. This ritual was obviously important to the informant because it helped her hold on to her Catalan heritage even when she wasn’t physically there.