Barcelona's Christmas markets are more than just yet another excuse for commercialising the run up to Christmas. Although people undoubtedly do come with the intention of getting some shopping done, they also offer the chance to check out some of the customs and traditions particular to Catalunya during this time of the year.
A Christmas market takes place every year in the small park or grounds of the Plaza Sagrada Familia. Large stalls display figurines that represent the traditional nativity scene of Bethlehem; from Mary, Joseph and Jesus in the crib figures to the shepherds, three kings, sheep… and a cagner. For those not yet familiar with this Catalan character, the caganer literally means "pooper" and is traditionally a peasant wearing a red hat known as a "barretina", squatting down to defecate. He is usually hidden well away from the central manger scene, and children of all ages love to seek him out. One explanation for his presence is as a representation of the fertilisation of the earth, or of the fundamental equality of all people, regardless of their gender, race or creed. Some, on the other hand, simply prescribe it to the Catalan sense of humour. Indeed, since his humble beginnings as a peasant, the cagatio figure can now be found in countless forms of varying popularity… including Father Christmas, the Pope, Zapatero, etc.
Another uniquely Catalan tradition, also connected with bowel movement, is the "cagatio". This is a wooden log with a friendly face drawn at one end, wearing a red "barretina" peasant hat. Children traditionally get their presents on the Dia de Reyes (6th January), and it is cagatio who administers them. To release the presents over which he presides they sing a song asking him to literally poo the presents out… again, representing fertility and renewal. As well as these typical figures, the Sagrada Familia market sells a lot of classic Christmas decorations for trees, coloured lights, and little ornaments and gifts.
The Fira de Santa Lucia is the most famous Christmas market, taking place in December. Its many stalls extend out across the plaza of the Cathedral de la Creu and into the narrow streets surrounding the Cathedral. The focal point of this market is its many nativity scenes, and as well as selling complete representations, it is also possible to get the moss and cork houses of various sizes to make your own nativity scene. Cagatios, and other traditional seasonal items can also be found. Although Christmas trees are not originally part of the local celebrations, they have by now also become well established as part of the festive decoration. Trees of all sizes can be found at this market.
Many stalls also sell a wide variety of creative gifts, wood sculptures and sweets. The most popular sweet of the season is the "turron" or nougat, which comes in many different flavours. Santa Llucia is the patron saint of those with eye problems, and also of the arts and crafts that require good eyesight such as design and dancing. She is also known as the bringer of light, and was martyred in the 4th century. Folkloric events take place during the Fira de Santa Lucia, including the "sortida de la carassa", or procession of a traditional 16th century creature who spits out sweets whilst pulling grotesque faces and rolling her eyes. She'll be stalking the cathedral between 12-2pm on the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 10th, 16th and 17th December.
Other districts of Barcelona also have their own Christmas markets. The market of Les Corts is open from the 5th - 23rd Decembre, and is located in the Pl. Can Bruixa. Artisans sell hand made gift items and traditional nativiy pieces. Poble Sec's Christmas market is open from the 2nd - 21st December and can be found on Avinguda Parallel, by Carrer Roser.
The largest nativity scene of the city is traditionally installed at the beginning of December in Plaza Sant Jaume, outside the Ajuntamento building. Almost life-size representations of the nativity scene are installed, and visitors can walk round this impressive display and join in the seasonal game of “spot the cagatio...”