Traditional and popular festivals and celebrations are among the most common forms of collective participation. They are events at which everybody is made to feel welcome and in which they can all take part, regardless of their gender, social status, religion, ethnic group or age.

There is a wide variety of traditional and popular festivals and celebrations in Catalonia, as every district, town and city has its own. Here, we will briefly explain the festivals and celebrations that are common to the whole of Catalonia.


The Carnestoltes or Carnival celebrations are held on the days leading up to Lent (Quaresma), a 40-day period of abstinence and fasting before Easter (Pasqua). The celebrations always take place in February, although the exact dates depend on the phases of the moon.

The first day of celebrations is Shrove Thursday (dijous gras), when it is traditional to eat eggs and pork products, such as tortilla with Catalan botifarra sausage containing egg, or coca de llardons, a flat, flour-based mass topped with crackling.

The Carnival king (rei Carnestoltes) opens the festival. He appears on the Friday, Saturday or Sunday after Shrove Thursday (dijous gras). The king may be a person in fancy dress or a dummy carried by youngsters. He usually makes a satirical opening speech (pregó) in which he invites people to begin the festival. The Carnival king (rei Carnestoltes) is given different names in different areas.

The weekend in question is characterised by people putting on any kind of fancy dress (disfressa) they like. Some people form groups called comparses, the members of which all wear costumes with the same theme.

Towns organise activities called rues and cavalcades, which are processions of floats (carrosses) and other decorated vehicles. There are often prizes for the most original or best adorned float (carrossa) or group (comparsa). The people who participate in such processions usually represent different social and commercial organisations, such as neighbourhood associations, traders' associations, youth associations, etc.

The following Wednesday is Ash Wednesday (dimecres de cendra), which is the last day of the Carnival celebrations and the first day of Lent (Quaresma). The best known way of marking this day is an act called the burial of the sardine (enterrament de la sardina). The act in question has a huge number of local variations, ranging from actually burying a sardine to burning the Carnestoltes dummy. At the end of the act, a satirical will is read out, in which the recently deceased character leaves people inappropriate items. The act represents the end of the celebrations and the beginning of a period of fasting and abstinence.


St. George, or Sant Jordi, as he is called in Catalan, is the patron saint of Catalonia, where St. George's day (Diada de Sant Jordi) is celebrated on 23 April.

There are many variations of the legend of St. George throughout the world. In the Catalan version, there was a lake that was home to a dragon to which a maiden had to be sacrificed every day. One day, St. George (the hero) killed the dragon (the villain) and rescued the maiden who was due to be sacrificed. A rose tree bearing red roses grew where the dragon's blood had been spilled.

On St. George's day (Diada de Sant Jordi), the streets of Catalonia are traditionally filled with stands selling roses and books (roses i llibres). The rose is a symbol of love, while the book is a symbol of culture. St. George's day (Diada de Sant Jordi) is a lively, participatory event that people can enjoy while strolling through the streets.

It is customary for men to give women a rose and for women to give men a book.

The Catalan tradition of books and roses has been exported to the rest of the world. In 1995, UNESCO declared 23 April to be World Book and Copyright Day.


Another highly relevant form of cultural expression is the erecting of human towers, a custom that originated in the Camp de Tarragona area and which has spread throughout Catalonia. Castellers are the people who form such towers, and groups of them compete with each other to make the highest, best structured towers.

Groups of castellers (colles castelleres) have traditionally contributed to social integration, as the sex, age, height and weight of their members is not important. The only requisite for taking part is a desire to help with a group project, that of forming human towers. All the successes achieved are regarded as collective successes.

Human towers can have from 1 to 9 people per level, and may be between 5 and 9 levels high.

The technique used for erecting human towers is complicated, despite the fact that those who form such towers are amateurs and take part in the activity voluntarily. The technique in question has given rise to words and expressions used specifically when referring to human towers.

Each type of tower has a different name, depending on its height in levels and the number of people on each level. For example, a castell 4 de 8 is a tower that has 4 people on each level and is 8 levels high. Pilars are towers with a single person on each level.

In order to carregar (erect) a tower, there must be a pinya, a group of people who surround and support the tower and catch anyone who falls. Spectators at human castle displays (demostracions castelleres) often take part in them by acting as a pinya.

An enxaneta is the person (usually a child) positioned at the top of a tower. When the enxaneta raises their hand, they are said to fa l'aleta, which is the signal that the tower has been erected successfully. It is just as important to descarregar (take down) a tower properly as it is to erect it well, meaning that it has to be taken down without anyone falling. If a tower collapses, it is said to fa llenya.


Legends of giants (gegants) and fantastic beasts are common to all cultures, as people used to use them as an explanation for mysterious occurrences. Today, as a form of collective expression, they are community symbols and a feature of festivals and celebrations.

Giant carnival figures are oversized representations of characters from legends, history or local tradition. Most towns have a pair of giants, el gegant i la geganta (a male giant and a female giant). Nowadays, many associations and groups have their own giants too.

The figures are usually made from cardboard and wood, and have a distinctive feature corresponding to the group or area they represent. There are pairs of giants portraying the king and the queen, characters from folk stories, etc. All giants have a name. They are carried by groups called colles geganteres, and are preceded by carnival figures known as capgrossos. They take part in parades called cercaviles when areas celebrate their annual festival (festa major), or in gatherings of giants (trobades de gegants).

Capgrossos are huge heads borne by a person positioned inside them, who looks out through a hole in the mouth, giving such figures a grotesque appearance. They represent popular characters and conduct themselves theatrically.


Fire has always been one of the most essential features of Catalan festivals and celebrations, and its importance has grown with the passage of time. Groups of devils have become more and more common at such events and have contributed to the cohesion of an increasingly varied society.

Devils (diables) are groups of young people who wear typical costumes and carry sticks to which they attach firecrackers (petards). At devil dances (balls de diables), the devils spin round in circles and prompt spectators to join in by chasing them.

A bestiari is a group of figures representing fantastic beasts. Some of them are connected to the area to which they belong, while others are the product of the imagination of different groups. The dragon (drac) is the most common and popular figure, although other beasts that often appear include the eagle (àliga), the female mule (mulassa) the ox (bou) and the female dragon (víbria).

A procession of devils and fantastic beasts is called a correfoc, something that takes place at most annual festivals (festes majors). Such processions are held at night and involve the devils and beasts setting off lots of firecrackers.


Regardless of its size, every Catalan village and town has its own annual festival (festa major) in memory of its patron saint. An annual festival (festa major) is the most wide-ranging display of participation, as such events usually feature parades ofcarnival figures (cercaviles de gegants i capgrossos), correfoc processions, human tower groups (castellers) and many other collective activities, such as traditional sardana dances (ballades de sardanes), performances by music groups and esbarts dansaires (groups of people who promote popular Catalan dances and prevent them from being forgotten), firework displays (castells de focs artificials), group lunches and dinners, etc.

The sardana is Catalonia's most popular group dance and has become symbolic. The dancers join hands and form a circle. It is not essential for there to be mixed couples, meaning that anyone can take part and may even join in when the dance has already started. The dance involves the repetition of a series of short steps (passos curts) and a series of long steps (passos llargs). The popularity of the sardana has led to the formation of sardana groups (colles sardanistes). The accompanying music is provided by a band called a cobla.


A night filled with fire, the eve of St. John's day (St. John is known as Sant Joan in Catalan) coincides with the summer solstice (23 June). Spontaneous celebrations take place in the streets, in the form of an open-air party (revetlla). Bonfires (fogueres) are made from old furniture and wood, and a great number of firecrackers (petards) and fireworks (focs artificials) are set off.

It is traditional to jump over the bonfires and to eat coca de Sant Joan, a flat, flour- based mass topped with crackling, pine kernels or cream.


The Christmas (Nadal) season begins on 6 December and ends on 6 January, the date of the arrival of the three wise men (Reis Mags de l'Orient), who bring presents for children. Large parades called cavalcades are organised to welcome them.

Putting up illuminations in towns and cities, holding family get-togethers and giving gifts are all traditional Christmas activities. Lots of fairs that sell all kinds of products take place over the Christmas period. They include the Fira de Santa Llúcia, where a full range of festive items can be found, and poultry and Christmas tree fairs.

Other Christmas traditions are concerts, some of which have their origins in Medieval times, and nativity scenes (pessebres), in which figurines depict the birth of Jesus. Among those figurines is a traditional Catalan character called the caganer, a defecating man who is considered to be a symbol of prosperity and good fortune for the coming year. Another Catalan tradition is the tió, a log that children hit with a stick to make it “defecate” gifts and sweets.

New Year (Cap d'Any) is not part of the religious tradition of Christmas, despite it falling within the Christmas season. It is a festive celebration to welcome in the new year, and it has its own traditions, such as the home dels nassos, a character with a nose for each day of the year, and the ritual of eating 12 grapes (12 grans de raïm) on New Year's Eve, one for each chime of the clock at midnight as the new year begins.