Catalonia is home to countless curious customs. Walk out of your hotel or apartment in Barcelona, and you're likely to catch giant figures floating above a sea of heads, devils dancing under a shower of sparks, an egg dancing on a water spout. Sights that often cause newcomers to stop in their tracks, wide-eyed and delighted. Even if you've lived in Catalonia for a while and the surprise has worn off, seeing these lively, traditional customs in action is a source of great joy.

Most of these customs have an ancient flavour to them so I wasn't surprised to find out that the Gegants, Correfoc and L'ou com balla all originated somewhere between the 12th and 15th century. What I didn't know is that all three of them trace their roots back to Corpus Christi, once Europe's biggest religious festival.
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Young devil at Fiestas de Gracia in Barcelona by Gautier Casimir
The Gegants

The Gegants are giant, painted figures in long robes and a mainstay of Catalonian festivities. They started out as the protagonists of religious plays in Corpus Christi processions during the 15th century. The Catholic church used the plays to explain scripture to people, many of whom could not read or write. These traveling plays featured dragons (as a symbol of evil), lions, eagles, oxen and important biblical characters. At first, they were played by men in costumes. Over time, the masks and props became more elaborate, giving way to gigantic, beautifully crafted figures.

The giant figures became so immensely popular that they began doing side gigs at town festivals, gradually shedding their religious role and becoming the true patrimony of the people. Special groups popped up, dedicated entirely to making, maintaining and performing the Gegants. Their popularity reached its apex in the 19th century when Barcelona society ladies would copy the outfits of female Gegantes, often designed by fine Parisian tailors!

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Gegants at Barcelona city hall by Josep Carbó
The Correfoc

The protagonist of the Correfoc – or “fire race” - is the devil, a mischief-maker who has appeared in processions and festivities since the 12th century. Historically, the devil interrupted religious or political plays with his antics, eventually becoming so popular he got his own show: the “ball de diables” or “devil dance”. This usually involved fire and noise and formed an integral part of religious processions on Corpus Christi and other holidays. Over time, the devils' mischief also infiltrated popular festivals and carnival parades.

What differentiates the Correfoc, a relatively new invention, from the devil dance is audience participation. People usually stood on the sidelines and watched processions go by. In 1980, however, the devils in a procession celebrating Sant Joan (an “anything goes” night of mischief around summer solstice) began chasing people in the crowd. The crowd responded by running alongside them and dancing under their giant sparklers. The modern Correfoc was born!

Nowadays, the Correfoc is amongst the highlights of any “fiesta mayor” or town celebration, including Barcelona's hugely popular Mercé Festival. People show up prepared, wearing hats or damp scarves wrapped around their heads, and wait to plunge into the crowd of running devils, fire-breathing dragons, and enormous Catherine wheels shooting sparks in all directions.

The Dancing Egg

One of the oddest customs to emerge from Corpus Christi is something called “l'ou com balla” or the “dancing egg”. The tradition of placing a hollowed out egg on the water jet of fountains began in Barcelona during the 16th century. The fountains are splendidly decorated with flowers and fruit, and the egg cheerfully bounces about the water spout as though it were dancing.

Although some people point to the egg as symbolising the Eucharist, the meaning behind the dancing egg is probably of a much more pagan nature. After all, Corpus Christi coincides with an ancient pagan festival that honoured nature and asked for a good harvest in the coming season. It isn't much of a stretch to see the egg as a symbol of fertility and life, a celebration of spring.

Although the dancing egg can also be found in Sitges and Tarragona, it remains a deeply Barcelonan custom and is only celebrated during Corpus Christi. The best places to catch a dancing egg in Barcelona are the cathedral's cloister or the courtyards of the Frederic Marés Museum, the Poble Espanyol, the Casa de l'Ardiaca and the Ateneo de Barcelona.
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Dancing Egg at the cathedral cloister in Barcelona by Josep Carbó
Corpus Christi might have inspired all three of these curious customs, but with the exception of the dancing egg, they have truly transcended their original role. Over the centuries, they have shed their religious connotations to become truly popular customs, kept alive by local groups passionate about their culture and uniting people in celebration.


Author's Byline:

Hildy Snow writes a Barcelona Blog about culture and tourism for BCNinternet.com, a company specialising in quality accommodations in Barcelona.

 
As the weather is heating up and we are heading for the warm spring weather, so is the summer break. What will you do this year: relax or do something worthwhile? If you are thinking about the last one you might want to look in to vacation language courses. It might not sound like the ideal way to spend your summer holiday, but picture this:

You live in beautiful apartment in London, near Hyde Park. You get your breakfast from the local deli around the corner every day. In the evening you enjoy the sights London has to offer and of course the exciting night life. A picnic on primrose Hill, high tea at the Dorchester and dinner at Jamie Oliver’s fifteen restaurant. You are living the big city life to the fullest, knowing that you can go back to a more tranquil pace of life, at any time. Have we grasped your interest yet?

Why should you do a language course?

A vacation language course is the perfect opportunity to combine travelling with building up your CV. A foreign language always looks good on your resume, it shows you are interested in other cultures and it shows you are determined to improve your skillset.

What does a language course entail?

During the day you learn something new about a new culture that is foreign to you. In small groups of 12 you improve your knowledge of a language of your own choice. You practice the grammar, pronunciation and spelling of this language and slowly develop a basic knowledge. You can use this level of knowledge to move to an advanced course or you can try your luck in a native speaking country.

Why choose London?

London is a great place to study a foreign language because it is such a multi-cultural city. It doesn’t matter which language you decide to study, it is almost guaranteed you will run in to someone from the background of which you are studying the language and culture.  This enables you to practice your school knowledge with a native speaker straight away. It doesn’t matter if it is only a quick chat in the pub because when it comes to learning a new language:  practice makes perfect.

Plus there are also a lot of amazing cultural themed festivals in London throughout the year. The Hyper Japan London festival in February and the Caribbean Notting Hill carnival in August are just two of the biggest examples. The city of London makes it therefore not only possible but also exciting to indulge yourself in a foreign culture.

What to do afterwards?

The majority of vacation language course are taught in small groups so you can easily make friends that have the same interest as you do.  Chances are you make some great travel for your next vacation. Or you can choose to make use of the central location of London and make a little road trip to the South or the East coastal regions.

There are more than plenty of great opportunities for a holiday that combines leisure and doing something worthwhile. You just need to find the one that suits you best.