(By CNA/Barcelona).- According to Catalan tradition, the Easter Bunny skips Catalonia. However, kids do not skip chocolate for Easter. In Catalonia, children get chocolate figurines that top a special cake: the “Mona de Pasqua”.
This sweet gift is traditionally offered by godfathers on Easter Monday, although nowadays the day depends more on convenience than on tradition. This year, the Patissier Gild of Catalonia expects to sell a similar amount of “mones” (the plural of “mona”) than previous years. In total, they expect to sell some 660,000 “mones”, according to Joan Turull, the Gild’s Chairman. However, cakes and figurines may be smaller because of the current economic climate, explains Turull, a trend that started two years ago when the economic crisis began to bite. The chocolate sculpture that tops the special cake can take very different shapes and sizes.
They range from small chocolate eggs to one-metre-high castles made entirely out of chocolate. In addition, traditional figurines such as houses and animals are joined by Barça players or cartoons, such as Hello Kitty, Doraemon or Rapunzel.
The “Mona de Pasqua” tradition is linked to Easter eggs. Godfathers used to give boiled eggs to their godsons or goddaughters for Easter Monday. Then, it evolved and the boiled eggs were joined by a simple cake filled with marzipan. However, Barcelona patissiers made the tradition sophisticated and started to make chocolate eggs, which were soon joined by other figurines. Besides, the marzipan cake found a competitor: a sweet fruit cake, filled with apricot jam, and decorated with coloured feathers and toy chicks.
The tradition spread across Catalonia and Catalan speaking countries, such as the Valencian Community and the Balearic Islands. Furthermore, chocolate figurines began to become more popular and year after year they became richer and more diverse.
Nowadays, the marzipan and sweet fruit are the traditional “mona” cakes, although in the last number of decades chocolate cakes and other creations have been receiving a large part of the “mona” market share. In addition, chocolate figurines get most of the attention, and some people only buy the chocolate sculpture and skip the cake.
Finally, “mones” have been adapted to people’s convenience and nowadays “mones” are offered throughout the entire Easter period. Since many people go on holiday for the period, they give the “mona” before leaving or normally upon their return, explains the Chairman of the Patissier Gild of Catalonia, Joan Turull.
Despite the great variety of cakes, chocolate figurines, combinations of both elements and the day “mones” are bought and offered, the tradition is very much alive in Catalonia. Some 660,000 “mones” will be sold this year according to Joan Turull. This means approximately 1 “mona” cake for every 10 Catalans.
Easter and spring – A bit of History
Palms, Florida Easter and Granada Easter are the three parts of one celebration known as Easter which occupies a long period of time, from the beginning of the spring until the summer solstice. Vegetables are the principle elements of the celebration of this festival. Thus, Palms represent greenery, Florida Easter flowering and Granada Easter, fructification. During Easter, trees, flowers and branches are the protagonists of many celebrations.
In Catalonia there was the custom of celebrating the Resurrection, or Florida Easter, with the chanters, songs of a religious or felicitating nature or which referred to determined people. We have not found documentation which accredits when and where this custom commenced, but we know that in the sixteenth century they were celebrated in the rural world and that the oldest chanters are the joys of a religious character and dedicated to the Mother of Christ of Roser.
Those who interpreted them, known as ‘caramellaires’ [chanter singers] were groups of infants and/or adults who came out to sing at dwellings and country houses in the evening on Glory Saturday, or in the morning of Easter Sunday and Monday. They were accompanied by various instruments and gathered eggs or money which the people gave to them and with which they prepared a collective meal, mainly egg dishes, on the same day, in the afternoon, or a few days later. Throughout the nineteenth century, the coral societies adopted this tradition, and introduced it into the cities as well as revitalising it with new elements and new musical pieces.
The oldest reference to the singing of chanters in Barcelona city is from 1776, although it seems that the first groups were not organised until the middle of the nineteenth century and that they did not become generalised until 1880.
The tradition lives on today – although it seems with less strength than previously – with names, forms and in very varied places. Súria (Bages) is one of Catalonia’s villages having a deep rooted tradition of chanters. In fact, a document exists that certifies they were held for Easter in 1591. Nowadays, more than 500 singers, gathered in groups, and with musical accompaniment, invade the municipality on Easter Sunday. The groups are intergenerational, most of dressing in traditional Catalan costume and, from the eighteenth century onwards, accompanied by infantry men carrying blunderbusses.
We must also point out the chanters of the Roser in Sant Julià de Vilatorta (Osona), which have a documented existence of more than 400 years, those of Abrera (Baix Llobregat), and those of La Seu d’Urgell (Alt Urgell) which were recuperated in 1986, during the cities’ full process of recuperation of its cultural heritage.
In the past, on Easter Sunday, in the afternoon, the celebration of gatherings were initiated, which were days of a multitudinous, playful and festive nature around hermitages and sanctuaries to honour a saint or the Mother of Christ. However, these were mainly days of reunion and companionship, held in the open air, during which there was usually a raffle of eggs or other products, like sausages or a bottle of liquor.
However, the proliferation of gatherings all over Catalonia happened the following day, that is, on Easter Monday, making the most of the good weather, and the meal centre piece was the ‘mona’ [Easter cake], which is a traditionally round cake that the grandparents gave to their godsons or goddaughter on that day. The traditional ‘mona’ was a ring filled with cream, jam, etc. with chicken eggs – as many as the age of the boy or girl –, but since the nineteenth century it is usually a sponge cake with butter and chocolate, topped with eggs or chocolate figures, biscuit or praline and often decorated with feathers and glace fruit. Previously, people went to the countryside, or the beach, to eat it and it was usually given to the children up to the time of their first Communion – approximately until the age of twelve – which was considered to be a type of ritual that marked the passage from infancy to adolescence. Today the tradition of giving ‘mona’ continues, although they now have varied forms, almost as many as the types of cake which are commercialised under this name. In spite of this, the tradition is maintained, thanks especially to the art of patisseries when working with chocolate.
The second Easter, or Granada Easter, arrives eight weeks after the Florida Easter. It is the religious festival of the Pentecost, at which time we celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit over the apostles of Jesus. It receives the name ‘granada’ because it is tied with harvesting and the fruits of the crops. In the past, as in the case of the Florida Easter, Granada Easter Monday was a day for gatherings, pilgrimages and outings to the countryside. Nowadays it has lost its religious connotations and is just another local festivity which many municipalities of Catalonia enjoy, especially those of the metropolitan crown of Barcelona.
As the calendar advanced and the months of May and June came closer – or what is the same, the Corpus and the expression of the plenitude of spring passed – ‘enramades’ [bunches of branches] or the decorating of streets and squares of villages and towns with garlands of greenery and floral carpets were held. Traditionally, the ‘enramades’ had also been a demonstration of love by wooers towards their loved ones who used to plant a bouquet, or cover their doors in blooms as a declaration of love. They left it there at night, sometimes decorated with fruits, biscuits and other sweets and, in the early morning, went to sing ‘maigs’ under the windows of the maidens.
The oldest enduring ‘enramades’ are those of Sallent (Bages), which go back some 600 years, and those of Arbúcies (Selva) which date from the sixteenth century. Sant Feliu de Codines and the Garriga (Vallès Oriental) and Sant Llorença de Morunys (Solsonès) are other villages who maintain this tradition from which it is said the fringe garlands and the paper bandoleers, which are typical of street festivals and parties, derive.