As our time in Barcelona is coming to a close, I can’t help but take note of the things I have grown to love and appreciate here. Every culture has certain traditions – some have been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years… others, perhaps a generation or two. One of the perks of living in Europe is that it’s full of traditions, many of which are older than the United States itself. As it’s these traditions that make me smile (most days) as we go about our daily lives, I thought I’d share a few of them with you.
Gracia, the neighborhood we live in, is known for being a bit of a party place. When we tell people that we live in Gracia, they often ask if it’s really loud because of all the partying. In reality, it’s not loud at all and we love the liveliness of where we live.
And what we also love are all the random moments where we are walking and there will be people swing dancing in one square, preparing areas for bonfires in another square, or setting off firecrackers in yet another. And during certain times of the years, blocks will be blocked off so that a group can setup tables and bbq or have their own little mini festival. It truly feels like a neighborhood even though we are in the heart of the city.
We also have the Festa de Gracia here where streets compete for the best decorated streets. It’s amazing and they spend the entire year gathering materials and prepping for the big reveal in August. Seeing the streets truly come to life is breathtaking.
Ball de Baston and Bastoners
Speaking of random festivals, my friend Jodi and I were walking thru Gracia the other night and right smack in our “clock tower square” (otherwise known as the Placa de la Vila de Gracia) there was a festival of bastoners having a competition. This is a square that we often find these random events. So we stuck around to watch for a little bit.
While the Ball de Baston is known in other parts of Europe, it is especially popular here in Catalunya. The origins of this dance ritual dates back to 1150 – that’s quite a tradition!!
A few videos of the bastoners…
Caganer and Caga Tio
Caganer: This little Christmas tradition does his “business” in Catalan mangers. They range from traditional Catalan peasants to famous characters like the Queen, futbol players and even Darth Vader! This tradition started around the 17th/18th century and he is known to bring good luck and good harvest with his poop! Strange little tradition but one that we have some what strangely embraced, now owning at least 6-8 of these guys including traditional peasants, Darth Vader, Yoda, Bart Simpson and a Smurf. You can have your own pooping Catalan tradition if you go to http://www.caganer.com!
Caga Tio: Yet another pooping Christmas tradition. What is it with Catalunya and poop?? I mean really! The kids love them though! The caga tio literally means poop (shit) log. You feed him sweets starting on Immaculate Conception day and then on Christmas (we do it Christmas Eve) you sing this little song to him and then beat him with a stick til he poops presents for you. I can’t find how long this pooping log has been around but I suspect a very long time as it’s only been in recent years that he’s added the legs, hat and face – he literally was just a log before!!
I don’t know how long this tradition has been going on, but I imagine it’s been quite some time. Perhaps at one point he wasn’t going around on his moto, but rather on foot, but the Amolador is a fixture in Barcelona.
The Amolador is the guy who sharpens your knives. He walks around the city with his moto that has a grinder attached to the back of it and he blows his special whistle to let you know he’s nearby if you need your knives sharpened. This tradition just brings me back to a different time when you had your local blacksmith, knife sharpener and more. Josh had no idea he existed til about a week ago… I guess when you are in an office 12 hours a day you miss this kind of stuff!
I think the castellers are one of my all time favorite traditions here in Barcelona. We’ve seen them on countless occasions and each time I’m fascinated. Castells are human towers (castellers are the people that make up the tower). They originated in the area of Tarragona in the 18th century.
Per Wikipedia “A castell is considered a success when stages of its assembling and disassembling, can be done in complete succession. The assembly is complete once all castellers have climbed into their designated places, and the enxaneta climbs into place at the top and raises one hand with four fingers erect, in a gesture said to symbolize the stripes of the Catalan flag. The enxaneta then climbs down the other side of the castell, after which the remaining levels of castellers descend in highest-to-lowest order until all have reached safety.”
We have seen competitions during La Merce and festivals where Castellers participate as well. And to us, the best is when we just hang out in our favorite square and find that there is a practice session or a little competition going on. Totally unexpected and so much fun to watch. We were there once when a tower fell and it was both scary and fascinating. All you can do is watch and hope everyone is ok. I should also mention that the enxaneta is always a small child so you can imagine what it’s like when you see a small child fall from the top of the tower!
When we first moved here, I found it difficult to adjust to going to 50 different markets for all my shopping needs. Ok, maybe 50 is a stretch. But even still, it was tough trying to navigate and figure out who sells the best (cheese, meat, veggies, etc) of their specialized items. However, over time, I’ve come to not only streamline the process, in part because I’ve found the vendors I prefer for each of my needs, but also because I love that they truly specialize in those areas.
And it also feels very much like a small neighborhood like we used to have growing up. And yet, I’m in a decently sized city. But my meat/cheese guy and I chat all the time. I know he’s from Argentina and has 3 kids. I know he’s a runner like me. And every time I go in, he says, “300 g of turkey”? So I’ve gotten to know these people and it makes this city feel more like home.
So while I’d like to say I don’t practice my Spanish much, I actually do with each and every one of these people. Sure, saying 300 grams of turkey is easy. But getting to know each of these vendors (admittedly, I don’t know any of their names) means talking daily in Spanish with them. And I do. So that’s a bonus on top of getting all my shopping done!
I also love that because of the mercado and specialty shops, I can get something from someone who is an expert in that item. If I were to be able to ask questions (and there have been times where I can muster up the Spanish), I know that they can tell me everything I want to know about their items and what makes ham A better than ham B or where this cheese came from and how it’s made and if it’s strong or smooth.
And the fruits and vegetables, items primarily only in season. I can’t get raspberries in December. I can’t get blueberries in the off season ever. There are moments where things like this are annoying, like when I decided that I wasn’t going to eat baked potatoes anymore but instead I was going to eat sweet potatoes…. only sweet potatoes weren’t in season. Who knew sweet potatoes had a season? But like everything else, they do. And so when you wait all year for those special items to come in season, it makes you appreciate them just a little bit more.
Last but certainly not least on my list is the correfoc. Correfoc literally means – fire run. I’m thinking hands down probably our favorite tradition here in Barcelona! This is the most insane tradition that I have ever experienced. That doesn’t mean there aren’t more wild ones out there, I’m sure there are. But this one involves fire, sparklers, a lot of people in crowds and relatively narrow streets. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this event would NOT fly in the US.
The correfoc starts with the opening of the gates of hell. But before the gates open there are massive fireworks set off right in the middle of the street. This is right next to buildings and trees. Not to mention people standing in crowds right next to them as well.
After the gates of hell open, the devils start to run thru with their pitchforks of fire/sparklers. These aren’t just any sparklers like you would have on the 4th of July but winding, wild sparklers that can in fact, cause significant injury. And I have no doubt that it must.
There is also a kids correfoc. Aidan went last year with a friend. My cousin Meghan was in town and she and I arrived early to the adult correfoc and caught the tail end of the kid one. Yeah, it’s exactly the same as the adult one only it’s set during daylight hours. Aidan came home with his shirt singed from all the sparks. Thank goodness the kid wears glasses!!
Interestingly this is not an ancient tradition, while it certainly appears to be. Apparently this is only just barely 30 years old, having been started in the post Franco era. But unless someone outlaws it (and I just can’t see that here), I can see this wild and crazy tradition continuing on for many more years to come!
I have no doubt I’m missing a ton of things on this entry – after 4 1/2 years things that were once completely unique to Barcelona or Spain have become a part of my every day life. It doesn’t mean they aren’t special, just that I might not remember to put them on here!! So you may very well see another entry with more reasons why I love Barcelona!!