Things Catalan, Barcelona
In Catalunya, like in other parts of Spain, Italy and Southern France, the traditional Christmas decoration is a Nativity scene. It can be quite large, and a representation of the whole town of Bethlehem and surroundings.
However, we Catalans added an extra character that is not found in the Nativity scenes of any other culture. This extra little character is found in some corner, typically nowhere near the main scene. There is a good reason for his obscure position in the display, as "caganer" translates from Catalan to English as "defecator", and that is exactly what this little statue is doing, defecating!!
Possible reasons for placing a man who is in the act of excreting solid waste from his posterior in a scene which is widely considered holy are as follows:
1. Just tradition.
2. Perceived humor.
3. Mythical Defecation by Dwarfs
4. Finding the Caganer is a fun game, especially for children.
5. The Caganer, by creating feces, is fertilizing the Earth. However, this is probably an a posteriori (no pun intended) explanation, and nobody would say they put the Caganer on the Nativity scene for this reason.
6. The Caganer represents the equality of all people: regardless of status, race, gender everyone defecates.
The exact origin of the Caganer is lost. What do I think?? That it is just a prove of the odd sense of humor of we Catalans, and our like for satire behind our (apparent) seriousness.
Today, you can buy “caganers” of all sizes, even featuring famous people. It has become a popular collector’s item, and probably one of the most genuine souvenirs. On the pic you can see figurines of Barça football players, local and foreigner politicians (the President of the Catalan Parliament, the Spanish president Zapatero and George Bush), and in the very middle, Prince Felipe, Princess Letizia and their child Infanta Leonor. All of them shi... togheter, LOL!
It is a seasonal item, but giving its increasing popularity as souvenir you can find them out of Christmas season in some touristy shops. As well, in Baixada de la Llibreteria (small street from Plaça Sant Jaume to Plaça del Angel, Barri Gotic) there is a small shop where you can buy "caganers" all year round, with great variety of them. I can't remember the name of the shop, but the street is short so those interested will find it for sure.
If you look up at the balconies of many of the apartment blocks in the residential areas of Barcelona city you will spot many bearing the flag of Catalunya. Clearly people here feel a strong sense of pride in being Catalan.
People in Barcelona have a strong sense of belonging..... but not to Spain. They are Catalans (ie. from Catalunya), and most of them speak in Catalan too. My hubby was surprised to see that this doesn't only apply to old people, but to youngsters as well. They feel proud to be Catalan and thus try to preserve their own culture and language (which doesn't mean you'll have problems to communicate with them, they all speak Spanish too... which is great because, even though Catalan is similar to Spanish, we native Spanish speakers can't grab a single word of what they're saying when they speak in Catalan).
But we didn't realize the extent of this feeling until one day, while walking around the Barri Gotic, we heard 2 men arguing in the middle of the street, and when the argument was almost over and one of the guys was walking away, the other one yelled at him so everyone else could hear: "Gilipollas, por que no te vas a España?? Al fin creo que esta aqui cerca..." ("Dumba$$, why don't you go to Spain?? I think it's near here"). This would be pretty much like saying "go f--k your mother" or something like that, in our terms. We mentioned this to some bookshop clerks shortly after it happened and they confirmed that this was a rather strong offense for a Catalan. They accept and have resigned themselves to the convenience of belonging to Spain, but that doesn't mean they're happy to be called Spaniards as they don't feel like one. So make sure you don't do it if you don't want them to feel insulted! I'm sure there must be people who wouldn't mind or take it to heart, but it's better to be safe than sorry.... We thought this was a very funny and meaningful experience so I wanted to share it and also save it for myself (before my memory starts being mean and makes me forget the incident).
Another very 'Catalan' tradition are the 'Gegants' (Giants). Hese are big figures representing most of the time Medieval kings & queens, sometimes Christian, sometimes Muslim. A VT-friend from the Emirates was quit surprised when we saw the ones in the picture! Other times they represent famous people, or just people in traditional costumes. They are also present in almost all major Catalan town festivities.
Barcelona's main Giants are called Jaume and Violant (as they represent King Jaume the 1st and Queen Violant d’Hongria). Their names were changed during the Franco’s dictatorship to Isabel and Fernando (as the catholic kings, the traditional names seemed to be too Catalanist for the Regime)
But there are many others, as the famous Gegant del Pi (from the church of El Pi in the same name’s square). A traditional child’s tune (popular around Catalunya, not only in Barcelona) says:
El Gegant del Pi ara balla, ara balla
El Gegant del Pi ara balla pel camí
El Gegant de la Ciutat ara balla, ara balla
El Gegant de la Ciutat ara balla pel terrat!
(The Giant of the Pi now is dancing, now is dancing
The Giant of the Pi now is dancing on the path
The Giant of the City now is dancing, now is dancing
The Giant of the City now is dancing on the roof! )
Giants come out on local festivities to dance on the streets. You can imagine it's not easy to move this huge structure! Usually they are accompanied by capgrossos (bigheads) and sometimes mythological animals (dragons, horses, eagles...). Do not miss them if you re visiting a Catalan town during a festival time.
The four bars on the 'senyera', the Catalan flag, are said to represent the four provinces: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida and Tarragona. The Senyera is a vexillological symbol that consists of four red stripes on a golden background. It historically represented the king of Crown of Aragon; today is the flag of the Spanish Autonomous Community of Catalonia.
The design derives from a legend of Guilfré el Pelós, first Count of Barcelona. It relates how he received a call for help from Charles the Bald, who was King of the West Franks and grandson of Charlemagne. Guilfré went to his aid and turned the tide of battle, but was mortally wounded. As he lay dying, Charles dipped his fingers in Guilfré's blood and dragged them accross his plain gold shield, giving him a grant of arms.
We saw the Catalan flag at numerous of places. The Catalonian people are extremely proud of their own (beautiful) province.
11th September is Catalonia's National Day.
From the following link from the Wikipedia you can get information about it
Apart from institutional acts and demonstrations there are also concerts.
It will be a good opportunity to know where you are, as many tourists who visit Barcelona are absolutely unaware of the fact that they are in Catalonia and how different it is from the rest of Spain.
The word "castellers" means "people that do castles". The castellers are human towers of different kind and number of people. They reflect the local character -working together, tenacy and daring- There is a vast vocabulary about castles, (sometimes I thing I should do a master to understand all this world :-)) ) any kind of castle has a name depending on its number of "levels" and shape. Every level has its name too. For example the little boy/girl on the top is called "anxaneta".
Els castellers are typical of local festivities. This pic was taken during les Festes de la Mercè in Barcelona
While wandering around the Gothic district we came upon a colourful children's parade. The narrow streets were filled with music and Giant Characters and the many children who followed behind. The children and characters then assembled in the square where sweets were given out to everyone. The Parade and party was very atmospheric and it was a joy to see the delight on the faces of the children - even though I had no idea what the parade was about.
Catalunya is - in a way - a separate country from Spain. The Catalunyans represent an older culture than that of Castillian Spain, and these two cultures have been at odds for many years.
Here, you see a photograph of a Catalunyan folk dance held after Mass in Barcelona. This photo was taken in 1976, not long after Franco died, and the latest emergence of Catalunyan culture began.
This is a XIXth century's Barcelona custom whith a quite unknown origin, that is celebrated in th Cathedral on Corpus day.
That day the fountain of the cloister is decorated with green branches and cherries. On the top of the spout there is an egg, that with the water force it moves it and it looks like it would be dancing.
It is said, if the egg brokes, it will be a bad luck day.
The Catalan flag, representing the northeast region of Spain, has only officially been recognized as an autonomous symbol since 1979. The people of Barcelona are fiercely proud of their unique Catalan culture and if you talk to locals, it won't take long to discover the natural rivalry that exists between Barcelona and Madrid (New Yorkers and Los Angelinos will understand).
Probably the catalan tradition with more success and recognized internationally. Build human towers is based on three
principles: force, balance and common sense. It's very exciting to see this one spectacle in the squares.
If you have never seen the astonishing castells, there is a chance to see them live during all the year in many places of Catalunya.
The season begins in February and finishes in November. The most important shows are in Vilafranca del Penedès (august), Tarragona and Barcelona (september), Valls (october) and Terrassa (november).
If you have any doubt about the way they are made, please don’t be affread to ask anyone in the square. Please, keep your glass off if it happens that you are invited to place yourself on the basis to give a hand.
Barcelona and Girona belong to Catalunya. The locals speak catalan which is very close to spanish. Catalan in all its variants is spoken over an area with a population of 10 million people.
Catalunya has its own flag called Senyera. It shows four red bars alternating with five yellow ones, all of the same width.
Since 1980 september 11th is declared as the Catalan national holiday.
When you come to Barcelona, you should know it's the chapital of Catalonia, a sort of little country inside of Spain. We don't dance flamenco or see bullfighting every sunday as some people could think. There is a specific catalan culture that you can enjoy here.
For example, don't forget dancing a sardana in front of the cathedral. Or if you are lucky, and there is some festival in the city, you will see the castellers (something like a human tower), really unforgetable.
Catalan is the natural language in Catalonia, but everybody can speak spanish here, so no problem for tourists.
Take a look to the local customs in my Catalonia page. Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia. You can have an idea about different local customs as the 'human- towers' , national celebrations...