Archive | Spanish Celebrations

Festa Major de Gracia

Posted on 17 August 2015 by American expat!


It’s that time of year again. Time to wander through the throngs of people gathering in the neighborhood of Gràcia to check out the street decoration contest, dance to some live music, eat street food, buy drink after drink, follow the correfoc parades, and lose your friends as you stumble through the crowds until 3am.

This is the Festa Major de Gracia.

Here is very small taste of the 2015 party.

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La Diada de Sant Jordi

Posted on 24 April 2014 by American expat!

Yesterday was the festival of Sant Jordi, celebrating the patron saint of Catalunya wherein people gift each other either a rose or a book. All over town, there are book stalls and flower stands set up on every corner, and in the city of Barcelona, there is a festival on the Rambla de Raval.

This long plaza is the home of one on my favorite sculptures, El Gato, by my favorite sculptor, Botero. I’ve never been able to get into the spirit of this day, probably because there already exists a Saint Valentine’s day and while the gifting of a book in theory is a good thing, I think Book Day should be more specific, like Literature day. Because useless people like Belen Esteban and Kim Kardashian have written books. But today I thought I would check out the celebration and go visit my favorite fat cat.

botero cat

Botero’s cat, Rambla de Raval

The street market was much like any other, with artisan soaps, jewelry and handmade clothing with lots of big buttons, panels of avocado green material and piped edges on asymmetrical dresses and shoulder bags among the book and rose sellers. 


This little public area is an oblong slice surrounded by a bike lane, then a  one way street, both of which loop continuously around the long center island. Shops and restaurants backdrop either side of the tree lined ovoid, with their outdoor seating on the island, requiring the waiters to navigate through first car and then bicycle traffic while balancing full trays.

I rode my bike around half of the oval,  braking for a few waiters and taking in the activities. The trees today were shedding pollen like nobody’s business, catching in my throat, sneaking behind my sunglasses into my eyes, and making me stop more than once as a fit of violent sneezes took me over. I decided to walk my bike through the rest of the festival to avoid breathing in any more evil pollen than necessary. At then end of the island, I can upon the worst band I’ve ever seen in real life. They were a group of young guys on a temporary stage with a mess of plastic chairs set up in front of it. The guitarist and bassman played about a half beat behind the drummer, who was inconsistent in his rhythm and seemed to be playing too slowly for what the presumable energetic tune called for.  Then another guy joined in – a horrible, off-key whine escaped from his face into the microphone. At first I thought he was playing a kazoo, but then he started moving his lips and words were formed and I realized that he was singing. I put my earphone back into my ears and walked my bike back up the other side of the island.

People everywhere carried roses in plastic with a sprig of what looked like wheat cozied alongside the long stem and peeping from the conical opening at the top. Women mostly carried them in their hands, presumably having received them as gifts, while men seemed to be transporting them – they hung out of backpacks, stuck out from bag tops and were cradled in arm crooks.


I saw far fewer books being carried, but that could be because once purchased they were put away, unlike the roses. There certainly were plenty of book stands being perused. Those who were not shopping relaxed in the outdoor seating of the restaurants, sat on benches and planter edges with plastic cups of beer, or looked around for their friends. This event would go on into the night, where presumably there would be better bands on the stage and far more people.

This day has been celebrated even before its official adoption into a constitution in the cathedral of Barcelona in 1456 declaring Sant Jordi as a festival day. Gifting roses goes back to the 15th century, though the original reason why has been lost. Books, on the other hand, were only incorporated in 1926, when Spain declared the 23rd April as Book Day (this day was chosen as it is the anniversary of the death of  the Spanish writer Cervantes), which also happened to be Sant Jordi. So today we have two festivals rolled into one.

Yes, it is sweet to be recognized with a rose or a book, and I have received both on various occasions, but being a decidedly non religious person, which is the other part of the day-the celebration of a saint- I am not particularly moved by Sant Jordi. Perhaps it was because I’m not a fan of beer, or the astonishingly bad band on the stage, or the lack of an Argentinian restaurant with good empanadas nearby (I was craving them) – whatever the case, I decided that I had seen enough.

I said goodbye to the fat cat and took my leave, sneezing.

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The holidays may be over for you…

Posted on 05 January 2013 by American expat!

Back home, the holidays are Over with a capital O. Come January 2nd, gifts have already been returned, re-gifted, put into use or put away. The new year has been rung in and work resumes uninterrupted. But not here – the holidays are still in full swing. Today, January 5th, there is an additional Xmas holiday, the biggest of them all, called Three Kings Day.

The premise is that January 6 is the Epiphany day, the actual day that Catholics thinks the baby Jesus was born (because remember the 25th was the Pagan Yule and solstice holiday, so in the Church’s takeover of power, it was easier to steamroll the Pagan traditions if they matched up the birth of baby Jesus with the Pagan holidays). Baby J supposedly received gifts from the “three kings”, or scholars: One Baylonian, one Persian and one Arab. You might recognize these guys in all your Anglo Saxon tradition as the three wise men.

This is celebrated with a parade (who doesn’t love a parade?), where candies are chucked by the handfuls into the crowds from each float sporting a king of sorts in some arab/persian robage. But the big to do for the children is that this is the day the three kings visit every single home and fills their shoes with either toys and candy, or for the bad kids, coal and camel poop. Children prep for the visit by placing their grass or hay filled shoes in the living room along with a bowl of water for the camels. Beside it they put a plate of turrons and glasses of cava (Spanish champagne). This is the day that the presents appear under the Xmas tree.

To properly celebrate this holiday–because a candy chucking parade through the entire city clearly isn’t enough–there are the ubiquitous fireworks, singing, special pastries and cakes, dancing, costumes and elaborate floats. Oh yeah, and here in Barcelona, the Kings actually arrive by boat to attend their parade. I think it pretty much beats our Santa Claus in that it’s not only bigger and better, but it is actually a community event, as so many things are here. So while I was officially over the holidays by 10pm on New Years Eve, I can appreciate the enthusiasm still coursing through this city for this final Xmas shin dig.

Here is a video of the parade I pulled from YouTube to give you an idea of what I am about to navigate through as I make my way to a birthday party. Enjoy.

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Have a Sh*tty Xmas.

Posted on 01 December 2012 by American expat!

Editors note: Since it is Xmas time, I’ve brought back an oldie but goodie for the holidays. Enjoy.

It’s Navidad time here in Barcelona (aka Christmas or Xmas to us North Americans), and of course that means many, many days off for the Spaniards. For example, I am at the tail end of a 5 day weekend.  Which would be great if I were working and if anything was actually open. But other than quite a few street markets selling jamon, antiques, and yes, Xmas stuff, the pickings are slim.

Usually I am not one to acknowledge this time of year other than to make fun of what a scrooge I am and to let others berate me because of my generalized annoyance at all things referencing this holiday. Which I enjoy, by the way.

Take for example the Xmas tree my father made for me last year. A tumbleweed, spray painted black, with a cardboard and duct tape base. I think this is an accurate reflection of my spirit of Xmas.

That being said, there are a couple of traditions here I like because they either

a) are slightly obscene or

b) rather violent and slightly obscene. Thusly, I find them pardonable.

First we have the crapping log (El Caga Tió). This is a log with a face and hat that children beat with a stick while demanding and threatening it to shit turrons (sickeningly sweet nougat, served up in slab form), cheese and hazelnuts. For real, those three things. They even have a song in Catalan that goes like this:

Caga tío, (crap, log!)
caga turró, (crap torrons,)
avellanes i mató,( hazelnuts and cheese,)
si no cagues bé (if you don’t crap well)
et daré un cop de bastó (I’ll give you a smack with a stick.)
¡caga tió! (so crap, log!)

The log wears a blanket and is beaten by children while they sing. Then the blanket is removed to reveal the treats and shared among those present. In some versions of this event the log is then thrown into the fireplace and burned.

Here is a stack of  smiling logs awaiting their fate at a market.

The second tradition has to do with the Nativity scene, which most households build. These consist of more than the baby Jesus and a handful of holy rolling onlookers. These are a full blown affair with hills, lakes, barns with animals, farmers, and abundance of food being prepared and it is all quite realistic, for example you can buy farmers slitting the throats of pigs on tables, complete with a pool of blood on the ground. Or toothless old ladies spinning yarn. Or ironmongers hammering horseshoes. The choices are endless.

Or, you can create a more bible oriented nativity,set in the desert, complete with elephants, camels and chariots. In any nativity you’ll find devils, angles; usually a priest or two.

But in any Nativity, there is always a Caganer. This translates to “shitter” and it is exactly that: some dude taking a poo right in the nativity. Yep. And there are lots to choose from. From traditional Catalan figures to famous people to politicians to cartoon characters.

But it gets better. Not only is the Caganer squatting with pants down, he (or she) always features a pile of poo just under the naked, protruding rear. (Click here to view other celebrity caganers, or buy one for your own nativity. Or whatever.)

And sometimes, perhaps it’s a charming new trend, a nativity also features a Pixaner, which translates quite simply to “pisser”.

You can bet my mom will be receiving a Caga tio, a Caganer and a Pixner for Xmas. They will be added to her Xmas decorations, along side her Incredible Hulk snorkle that decorated her tree last year.

Because nothing says Christmas like poop.

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My neighborhood Feste Major

Posted on 16 September 2012 by American expat!

This city will not let me work.

It’s the end of summer, Sunday night, and I am sitting here at 9:35pm trying to get a jump on the work week coming up (I’m freelancing and I work from home) and I’ve been listening to an arsenal of firecrackers a few streets away machine gunning off for a sold twenty minutes. It’s echoing off the buildings and worrying my cat and I know that soon I will be compelled to go investigate, even though I know exactly what it is.

This week, which includes the previous weekend, so nine days in total, my neighborhood’s Festa Major has been celebrated non-stop. Every barrio in Catalunya has their own saint, and the Festa Major is the annual celebration of the personal saint of the neighborhood. I actually don’t know which saint has tutelage over my neighborhood, but it must be an important one because the annual party here is a major affair. It has the usual gegants i capgrossos (papeir mache giants), Castellers and of course, the correfoc (“fire-runs” directly translated) where a bunch of people dress up as devils, run through the streets and shoot fireworks in to the spectators from spinning pitchforks and sticks. They are nearly always accompanied by a papeir mache (yes, paper) dragon or other animal that also shoots fireworks at the crowd. This is all to beat of a drum line, or gralla, and lasts for several hours. I’ve featured the correfoc as one of my loves on the principle that it forces one to take personal responsibility for their own safety, unlike in my country where this would never be allowed in the first place because of the mountain of frivolous lawsuits from dumbshits who don’t wear hats as they run through the sparks until they catch their hair caught on fire and singe their eyebrows off. Oh, and it’s also a lot of fun to participate.

La Merce

This week has featured multiple streets closed off for outdoor dinners, where neighborhood people bring long tables outside into the street and dine together, multiple stages where bands and DJs have played until 3am most nights, a parade of tiny, rolling discotheques, workshops and children’s entertainment throughout the week, plus  decorations on balconies, shopfronts and strung across streets to form decorative foliage, a different theme for each participating street. (For the best example of this, look no further than the barrio of Gracia, famous for the neighborhood participation each year).

So now, after a week of distractions (which also included hot weather requiring an afternoon or two at the beach), I am forced once again to close my computer and go out into the night, joining the rest of the neighborhood, who will perhaps buy a mojito at a streetside stand, don a hat and dance with the drums and the devils of the Catalan neighborhood festa major.


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