The Fira of Santa Llúcia, held annualy in front of Barcelona’s Cathedral, is the oldest and biggest Christmas market in Barcelona and one the most popular in Spain.
It opened on November 24 and will close on December 23. It includes more than 280 stands ordered by sectors depending on what they sell: Nativities and figures, cork objects and decorations, there were the so-called green stands, selling moss, broom, pine branches, cork bark and mistletoe.
The earliest known date for the Fira de Santa Llúcia is 1786, found in the writings of a Catalan writer of the 18th century, Rafael Amat. Santa Llúcia is mentioned as the patroness of seamstresses, tailors and all needleworkers. It is also said that the fair was known as the “girls’ fair” as it was thought that unmarried girls went there in search of possible husbands. In Barcelona, the seamstresses would gather in the Ciutadella park for a big party.
The Fira de Santa Llúcia displays a huge number of figures for pesebres, or nativity sets, Catalonia being the ground of some of the most impressive compositions across Iberian peninsula. In a lot of Spanish homes, the scene depicting the stable in Bethlehem where Jesus was born is a central feature of Christmas decorations. The most unusual figure to be found here is a character named El Caganer, which literally translates to ‘the crapper.’ This statuette traditionally depicts a peasant wearing the barretina (a typical red Catalan hat) with his trousers down, his bare backside showing, and (this is where things get a little weird) a swirly brown turd between his legs. Today, El Caganer takes on many new forms from Marilyn Monroe to the Pope and, as you can imagine, he gets an exceptional amount of attention from tourists. Understandably, foreigners perceive this custom as a little odd, but it dates back to the 18th century and is seen as a symbol of luck and fertilization of the earth, ensuring a good harvest for the upcoming year.
The Fira also offers insight into some other local practices, like El Tió de Nadal that, unlike El Cagner, only poops out candy, nuts and torrons, typical regional confections, which were hidden inside earlier by adults. Minus the pooping, the tradition is really quite similar to children receiving gifts in their stockings from Santa Claus. In recent years, more Spanish families have started to set up Christmas trees, which can also be purchased at the Fira, but traditionally Catalonians wait to receive larger presents until January, when they are brought by the Three Kings.
Christmas celebrations in Catalunya begin on the eve of December 24th and carry on until the Feast of San Esteban on the 26th. This custom also has to do with food, and this time not in its digested form. Catalan people are considered resourceful and frugal, and spend the last day of celebrations eating cannelloni that have been filled with Christmas leftovers. Some other Spanish foods that you should be sure to try during the winter include artichokes, a typical soup called escudella, a dessert known as roscón de reyes and polvorones, infamous almond cookies. It is also typical to watch Pastorets this time of year, which are theatre plays about the birth of Jesus, accompanied by music and readings from the Bible held at many schools and smaller town squares.