5 festivities for a pagan Christmas
Fire rituals are celebrated on the occasion of the winter solstice in many cultures, including that of Catalonia: there are many traditional festivities to honour the sun, urging it to recover its strength. The Torch Descent of Gurb is especially recommendable. It's a magical way to celebrate the longest night of the year, with people working together to take fire down from the top of a hill right to the town centre.
Another fire ritual that enjoys a long tradition is the Fia-Faia Festival held in Bagà and Sant Julià de Cerdanyola on Christmas Eve. The festival consists of burning hundreds of bundles of dry herbs distributed throughout the town, while the townsfolk chant: "Fia-faia, que nostro Senyor ha nascut a la paia" ("Fia-faia, for our Lord is born in the hay"). Once the bundles have finished burning, a bonfire is made in the town square with what is left of them and those who wish to jump over the fire. The celebration is so rich in symbolism that it's been declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
The Centelles Pine Tree Festival is another ancient activity that pays homage to trees at Christmas. It consists of going out into the forest to find the prettiest local pine tree, cutting it down with an axe and transporting it upright on an ox cart to the door of the Church of Santa Coloma. The tree is then carried into the church right up to the main altar, where it is hung upside down with bunches of apples and neules (Catalan biscuits) tied to its branches. There it remains until Three Kings' Day, when its branches are shared out among townsfolk as good luck charms.
On 31 December, the children of the city of Barcelona have a very special mission: to find the man who has as many noses as the year has days! Want some clues? Well, he's got a very big head and two faces: an old one representing the year that's coming to an end, and a baby face representing the new year that's about to begin. What's more, he's accompanied by a band of musicians and fires the starting gun for the Sant Silvestre Race. Will you be able to find him?