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Families around the World: The Castellers of Catalonia

This is the first post in a series on the traditions and experiences of families from around the world. We have partnerships with people in many different countries, including Catalonia, a region of Spain with a unique and distinct culture.

After recent press in the New York Times about the Catalan tradition of "castelling," we were inspired to learn more about what castelling is really like from someone who has grown up with the tradition. This post is written by Àlex Hinojo, Wikipedian in Residence at the National Art Museum of Catalonia in Barcelona. Àlex has worked with our own Wikipedian in Residence, Lori Phillips, to translate our Wikipedia articles into Spanish and Catalan.

''Castells,'' a group game where teams create and dismantle a human tower (or castle), is one of the most important traditions of Catalan culture. A castell is made up of men, women, and children (“castellers”) standing on shoulders often as high as six levels!  The game reflects the idea that if we join forces we can achieve great goals.

When building a castell everybody has a different role to play, and the children are the ones who climb the highest! The castell is completed only when everyone has climbed into place and the enxaneta (a little girl) climbs to the top and raises one hand with four fingers, symbolizing the four stripes of the Catalan flag. The game is not over until the whole group of castellers has descended.

Castelling is not only about reaching a goal; it's also about being a member of a community and safely creating something together. The game is usually played on Sunday mornings next to a church or the town council, or in any major venue within the villages throughout Catalonia. While there is a castells league and several teams who compete against each other, sometimes the teams work together to create a huge castell with up to nine levels. These larger human towers show that working together is more important than the team itself.

The motto of castellers is “Força, equilibri, valor i seny,” which means “strength, balance, courage, and wisdom.”  While the older children and adults support the younger children as they climb, they are also encouraging the shared values of sacrifice, effort, pursuing the common good, and respecting the decisions of the group. Through castelling, the teams are showing that the children can grow and climb the “castle” thanks to the strength and support of the adults.

The tradition of castelling is so important that in 2012 the castells were distinguished by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The Catalan people are so happy to share castelling with others from around the world!

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Categories: Arts and Humanities, Wikipedia
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