Catalan popular culture is, for quite obvious reasons, dominated by native speakers of Catalan and most official Festa Major programs do not come in other language versions. However, with some knowledge of any romance language and this Festa Major Glossary, you will be able to get most of the information. Find the background and the sources at the end of the word list.
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Actuació: Performance or a number during a performance.
Agrupació de balls populars: An entity formed with the purpose to preserve and spread the knowledge of traditional Catalan folkdances.
Àliga: Eagle - a popular caracter in the bestiari of many towns. Only the Eagle of Sitges spits fire. (YouTube)
Amparitos: Spanish for keepers – those who take care of giants and the bestiari.
Arrencada: When something is being pulled up and started, eg. the figures of giants and capgrossos.
Assaig: Attempts or rehearsals open to the public. Performed by groups of dancers or castellers during the days leading up to the main day of a festa major. (YouTube)
Astracanada: A comedy play.
Baixada: A descent – an event taking place on a slope. A baixada dels gegants will be another name for a giant procession.
Baldanada: Seems to be when people come together for a light meal.
Ball Pla: A collection of Pan-European folk dances. (YouTube)
Ball de bastons: The highly energetic Catalan stick dance. (YouTube)
Ball de cavallets: A dance performed on horses made of cardboard. Called ball de cotonines in Vilafranca. (YouTube)
Ball de capgrossos (nans): Men and women performing relatively complicated dance steps and formations with big fake heads on their shoulders. The expression capgrossos is in some places reserved for highly oversized masks, but usually the two words refer to the same phenomenon. (YouTube)
Ball de cercolets: Dance with flower garlands, carried around in formations and in the end crowned by a little angel. (YouTube)
Ball de cintes: A dance where girls with coloured ribbons in their hands dance around a boy who holds the other end of each ribbon. The dance comes from the Germanic maypole tradition, originally performed around a symbolic tree to make it bear fruit, as a symbol for fertility. (YouTube)
Ball de cotonines: see ball de cavallets
Ball de dames i vells: see ball de malcasats
Ball de diables: Groups of people dressed up as devils dancing with fire-spitting sticks. In the Penedès and Tarragona areas the devils also read ironic verses but all numbers end with loud explosions of firecrackers. (YouTube)
Ball de figuetaires: A dance based on children's games and how adults tease children. (YouTube)
Ball de gitanes: A maypole dance full of burlesque erotic allusions, performed in coulorful clothes since it is assumed to have a gypsy (roma) origin. (YouTube)
Ball de malcasats: The dance about mismatched marriages is actually a satiric comedy, where some actors play representatives of the authorities while others play odd citizens from all social classes. Performed during the Festa Major in Vilafranca (ball de makasats), but during the Carnival in Vilanova. Called ball de dames i vells in Tarragona. (YouTube)
Ball de panderos/panderetes: Tambourine dance. The ball de panderos was originally performed by men only, of which half of the group dressed up as women. (YouTube)
Ball de pastorets: The shepherds’ dance. Young people dance around, hitting long sticks against each other and against the ground in a wish for the soil to be fertile. (YouTube)
Ball de patatuf: A simple pair dance, usually performed by children.
Ball d’en Serrallonga: A performance dance which tells the story about the bandit Serrallonga, during which shots are being fired from blunderbusses. (YouTube)
Ball de valencians: A dance from which the castell tradition evolved. Each choreography does in fact end with the construction of a small human tower. (YouTube)
Ban de festa: Edict to celebrate.
Barraca (Barraques): Local scenes, or even stalls, used to create a more intimate setting for concerts and performances.
Beguda convidada: A drink from a certain place in the world, presented during Santa Tecla, Tarragona.
Bestiari popular: A town's collection of fictitious monster animals or figures - dragons, eagles, mulasses - often related to local fables. The dragons always spit fire.
Canalla: Colloquial for children.
Capgrossos: Literally ‘big heads’ - see ball de capgrossos.
Carretilla: The special kind of fire crackers used for dances with fire (see ball de diables).
Carretillada: When diables light up their fires and dance together in a square, usually in a large circle formation.
Carpa Juanita i porró: A fire spitting carp fish which tries to drink from a fire spitting wine jar (porró) – the oddest creatures of the bestiari of Vilanova i la Geltrú. (YouTube)
Castanyola: Castanets – used in many of the traditional dances.
Castell: Typical Catalan human towers – up to ten levels of people standing on each others shoulders. (YouTube) The historic religious origin of the castells, can be traced back via dances like Ball de Valencians and Moixiganga.
Castell de foc: Fireworks.
Cavalcada: Originally a procession of people mounted on horses, but in this context just another name for parade.
Ceptrotada: A dance for the members representing Lucifer, one from each group of diables.
Cercavila: A parade through the town by groups which perform dances or short performances.
Cobla: The collection of instruments – one trombone, two trumpets, two horns, one string bass, one flute-like flabiol, four oboe-like Catalan shawms (two smaller tibles and two larger tenores) and a small drum called tamborí - needed when playing Catalan folk music, sardanes etc. (YouTube)
Colla: A team which performs a cultural activity. Coet: Rocket
Convit a la Festa: The invitation – a formal opening speech to a festa major, usually made by a celebrity.
Correfoc: A “fire run”. People dressed up as devils dance around with fire-spitting sticks and the audience is invited to join them under the flames. Be recommended to wear old clothes and make sure to protect your hair with a hat in case you want to try this. (YouTube)
Cucafera: Giant turtles which can form part of the bestiari popular.
Cupatge: Mix. Originally the process of mixing olive oils to achieve the right taste.
Diada: A day dedicated to a certain theme or person, eg. la Diada de Catalunya (the national holiday of Catalonia, September 11) or la Diada de la Mercè (the day of the patron saint of Barcelona, September 24). A diada castellera I translate as a 'human tower day'.
Diables: Devils – those who perform ball de diables.
Drac: Dragon. Saint George is the patron saint of Catalonia. Catalans love dragons and these fire-spitting monsters are a must in any festa major parade. (YouTube)
Entremés: A short street performance.
Esbart Santa Tecla: Tarragona’s folkdance association.
Espardenya: The traditional footwear used in many folk dances.
Exhibició: A proper performance on a stage, as opposed to an entremés, which forms part of a parade.
Exposició: Exhibiton. During a festa major there are usually art exhibitions of photos or paintings related to the event.
Faixa: The sash wrapped around the waist, used for protection by castellers and for decoration in some folk dances.
Falcons: Acrobatic, dynamic human towers, typical for the towns of the Penedès area. Most constructions are just as spectacular as the more common Catalan castells, but falcons has its origin in sports (the Czech Sokol (Falcon) movement, and not in religious celebrations. (YouTube)
Festa major: Tends to be translated as city festival or annual festival. Originally the celebrations in honour the patron saint of a town or neighbourhood. Like many other towns, Vilanova i la Geltrú celebrates festa major twice a year. The main one takes place in the summer, but there is also a winter version.
Galejada: A gala parade.
Galop: A galop, a dance similar to the polka.
Gegant: Giants. Huge figures made of wood, carried around in dances. (YouTube)
Geganter: Those who maintain and make the giant figures come alive.
Goig: A poetic elegy to be sung or read in the honour of a saint.
Gralla: A Catalan wind instrument with a unique sound. For example used when castells are being built.
Graller: The person who plays the gralla.
Havanera: Dances and songs of Creole origin and a popular festa major element in Catalonia’s coastal towns. Glasses of burnt rum are usually served during the show. (YouTube)
Imaginari: Cercavila de l’Imaginari – the children's festa major parade in Vilanova i la Geltrú’s, based themes from local legends and history. (YouTube)
Lleó: Lion. Noteworthy character in the bestiari popular of Tarragona.
Maça: The stick on which the diables carry their spinning fire crackers.
Malabar (Joc Malabar): Juggling.
Mascle Cabró: Mascle as well as cabró means billy goat or he-goat.
Matinada: A wake-up song played on the instrument gralla in the morning hours of the main day of the festa major.
Moixiganga: Originally a play about the passion of Christ but performed as a folk dance during a cercavila or processó. (YouTube)
Morterets: Rockets shot off from mortar-like pipes in the opening ceremonies of some festes majors. Extremely noisy and therefore not recommended for small children.
Mulassa: Giant mules carried around by two people in a crazy dance. (YouTube)
Musclada: An event centred around the eating of mussels.
Nans: Midgets - see ball de capgrossos.
Novena: An expression of devotion carried out during nine days.
Ofici solemne: Divine service at church - a reminder about the religious origin of the festa major tradition.
Pabordes: Originally the name of the board members of a religious confrèrie, but used for the organizing committee of the Festa Major de Vilanova i la Geltrú.
Parlament: Speech. In exhibitions of ball de diables or ball de cercolets, short verses (versots) are being read.
Passejada: A walk, but in this context rather a parade or a procession.
Pilar Caminant: Walking human towers, of which the most fascinating ones are performed on the stairs of Pla de la Seu, Tarragona.
Pregó: Public announcement
Processó: Originally a religious procession but nowadays used also for secular festa major parades.
Puntaire: Person interested in cushion embroidery; their get-together during the festa major of Barcelona is a tradition.
Recorregut: The itinerary or route through the town of the different parades (cercavila, processó or correfoc).
Repicada de campanes: Bell ringing.
Retaule: Altarpiece carried around in a procession.
Revetlla: Street party
Revista: Not only a magazine but also a revue, a variety show.
Rom cremat: Burnt rum. The hot drink you are treated to after a havenera concert.
Sardana: The most emblematic - although not the most exciting - of the traditional Catalan dances. Danced hand in hand in one or more circles to music played by a cobla. (YouTube)
Sarsuela: Zarzuela - A Spanish kind of operetta with spoken as well as sung scenes.
Seguici: An entourage of followers; in the festa major context the colles which follow the Patron Saint in a procession.
Set Pecats Capitals: Seven Deadly Sins – allegorically represented in the procession of Santa Tecla, Tarragona.
Sostre de foc: ‘Ceiling of fire’. The moment when a correfoc reaches its final: all groups of devils gather in a square, light up their last crackers and dance in the fire, all at the same time. (YouTube)
Tabalada: A timbales drumming session.
Tanda de lluïment: Approximately 'your turn to excel' - when all participating cultural entities, one after the other, enter a square to show their best.
Titella: A puppet.
Toc: A warning. Also: Toc de campana - chime or bell ringing, and Toc d'inici - translated as the first note in the English version of Barcelona's festa major program.
Trabucaire: Blunderbuss (trabuc) shooters
Trobada: A meeting or get-together.
Ventall (vano): Fans. Festa major street decorations in Vilanova i la Geltrú.
Vermut: A concert or performance where the audience is treated to a glass of vermouth.
Versot: Satiric verses used in the performances of some dances. (YouTube)
Víbria: Tarragona’s most impressive dragon.
Vigília: Historically and religiously a vigil, but non-religious festa major participants will limit the interpretation to eve; the night before the main event.
Vot: A vow to God or to a saint.
Vot del poble: The vow of the inhabitants of a town to be faithful to their patron saint - a religious tradition which has developed into the festes majors of our days.
Xambanga: As in xambanga de gegants: A Barcelona parade where the gegants as well as the geganters put on fancy dresses according to various themes.
Xerrada: A talk on a certain topic.
Xistorrada: An event centred around the eating of xistorra, a cured pork sausage.
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The August 24, 2008, background of this blog post:
Giants and dragons, correfocs and human towers. For those interested in exploring Catalan popular culture, a festa major is like a gold mine. However, tourists risk missing the best parts since most programs are issued late. August 29-31, the Festa Major de Vilafranca del Penedès - possibly the most emblematic of them all - will take place, but with less than a week left, the program detailing the time and place of different events still has not been made public.
Another issue is the language: most programs are only available in Catalan. This year, that was the case also for the Festa Major de Sant Bartolomeu in the internationally well-known tourist destination Sitges.
Since some of the expressions used are not easily found in dictionaries, I offer this wordlist. I take my starting point in Vilanova i la Geltrú, but will add vocabulary and descriptions from other places when I come across them. Festes.org presents a calendar of local celebrations - even the smallest festa major is worth a visit. What you will find are vivid examples of folk culture and one of the reasons why I am so happy to have moved to Catalonia.
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A request: Please, write me a comment in case you want to propose improvements to my translations or have questions about vocabulary which I have not yet included.
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Sources: Most specific facts for this entry come from the print version of the 2007 Festa Major program of Vilanova i la Geltrú, the Diccionari Català-Valencià-Balear or Wikipedia.
Related links: Festes.org, the Generalitat’s list of traditional celebrations of national interest and the official Festa Major web-pages of Vilanova i la Geltrú, Sitges, Tarragona and Vilafranca del Penedès.
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