I fell deeply, deeply in love with Spain after spending three weeks wandering around last year. When I got home, I was in a proper travel funk, which continued into the holiday season. On a whim, I decided to have a holiday party to brighten up the period between Christmas and New Year’s, and that party was going to have a theme.
Reading up on global Christmas traditions, a few really interesting ones emerged from the Catalan region. It was time to bring Catalunya to Canada. Luckily, Barcelona Tourism has prepared a helpful list of Christmas traditions for English-speaking visitors who only managed to mangle Catalan during their visit.
The date was set, the invitations sent and shopping list assembled. It was time to incorporate some holiday traditions, and I picked the ones that seemed the most adaptable and got to work. Truthfully, I picked the ones that were the most different from Canadian Christmas traditions, and the ones that amused me the most – Tió de Nadal and caganers.
Essential Catalan Christmas: Tió de Nadal and caganers
In Canada, Christmas gifts are delivered by Santa Claus overnight on Christmas Eve. In Catalunya, small treats* are delivered by Tió de Nadal (Christmas log) – also known as Caga tió. Starting in early December, children feed Tió a little bit every night and cover him with a blanket to keep him warm. On Christmas day, they gather around him, hit him with a stick, and sing a song encouraging him to poop out sweet treats. The sweet treats are found under Tió’s blanket. Surprise!
The more unusual Catalan tradition is including a caganer in the nativity. Traditionally, a caganer is a Catalan gentleman with his pants around his feet, pooping on the ground, placed in a more hidden part of a family’s nativity. The reasons for this vary wildly, depending on the source. The official reason is that he is a shepherd celebrating the Earth by fertilizing it with food he has eaten and gets more rebellious from there.
I didn’t know any of this when I visited Barcelona. Wandering around the Barri Gòtic, I noticed the souvenir shops had windows full of little figures who were pooping on the ground.
Kings and queens, superheroes, footballers and even Barack Obama are available in caganer form. Knowing nothing about it, I wrote it off as one of the really touristy things I didn’t need in my life. How wrong I was. I’m still kicking myself about not buying one.
If you suddenly need these traditions in your life, I’ve assembled some helpful tips for making your Christmas a little more Catalan.
Make your own Caga Tió
Making a decorative Caga Tió was ridiculously easy, it just involved re-purposing common everyday items around the home:
- Empty Pringles can
- 1 sheet of plain paper
- 2 wine bottle corks for legs
- scrap of fabric 1o cm x 10 cm for his barretina, the traditional Catalan cap
- glue gun
- acrylic paint: brown, red, black, light tan, white
Isn’t he sweet? Needless to say, Tió was the hit of the party. Making him is easy. Wrap the sheet of paper around the Pringles tube and glue the seam. Glue the wine corks to the Pringles tube so the tube balances on them nicely (see picture). Fold fabric into a cone shape, glue seam, glue to his head. Paint him to look like a log. Voilà!
Unfortunately, this Tió doesn’t come with any treats, nor will he withstand a stick-beating, but he’ll make an interesting centrepiece at your holiday party.
No caganer? No problem!
Or a more manageable one from Maremagnum, a large shopping mall in Barcelona which has been known to host a giant caganer in their nativity.
Finally, one a fun multi-dimensional one I found on Flickr:
Eats and drinks
Festive decorations in place, this is where my Catalan Christmas devolved into a more general Spanish Christmas. I offered my guests lots of Spanish wine and, even though it wasn’t summer, some tinto de verano, or fizzy red wine, along with the more traditional Canadian holiday beverages. For eats, I cleaned the grocery store out of Spanish-style jamón. I say “Spanish-style” because it’s made in Canada and isn’t quite the same, but it’ll do for here. My last act of hostessing, making traditional Spanish Christmas cookies, polvorones, wasn’t my greatest success, but my guests may have had too much wine and jamón to notice.
Wherever you’re spending the holiday, I wish you peace, joy and good times! Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Bon Nadal!
*Large presents are brought by the Reis (Three Kings) on January 6, which I don’t celebrate because I’ll be back at work.
Have you imported any holiday traditions from your travels? Tell us about them in the comments!