Bon Nadal means “Merry Christmas” in Catalan. This was Grant and I’s first Christmas away from our families, and our first Christmas celebrating another culture’s traditions more than our own. Although we did get a kick out of learning about crapping logs and other Catalan traditions, we still managed to infuse Christmas with a little bit of home for our little family of two.
Bike ride to see the holiday lights
As soon as December started, Barcelona streets were dressed in Christmas lights. By far, this is the biggest part of Christmas decoration here. There aren’t so many elaborate shop windows or gigantic trees. A group that we bike with sometimes organized a bike ride to go down a lot of the streets in the city that are lit up. It was fun to see the spirit across the city, and we felt a little bit of neighborhood pride for our tiny neighborhood that had the best light displays.
As in many European cities, there were Christmas markets set up around the city. They commonly sell nativity scenes and festive decorations for the season. Catalan Christmas markets have a few unusual offerings that you won’t find anywhere else, though.
Caga Tió literally means “pooping Uncle” and is a log with a face on it. The markets sell all sizes of this, because the tradition is that the log “grows” over time (meaning the parents have to swap out different sizes of the log). Basically, the kids “feed” the log through the month of December. On Christmas Eve, they beat the log and sing a song about beating it so that it will poop. It then “poops” out little fruits and candies for the kids. Traditionally, kids don’t get bigger presents on Christmas; rather, Three Kings’ Day, January 6, is when the kids receive gifts (from the Three Kings, not Santa).
We carefully selected a tió for our house, keeping in mind my stringent requirements: cannot have a creepy face, must have a cute blanket, and must be packable to take with us when we leave.
There are big Caga Tió’s that kids sit on for photos as well. Think “mall Santa Claus”. I got my photo with one (after shoving aside a few kids, just kidding!).
A caganer is a pooping man figurine that is put in the nativity scenes alongside Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. He is usually put in the background and supposedly represents “fertilization”. They make the caganers to be all sorts of famous people and also cartoon characters, like Sponge Bob. It’s bizarre.
There is also a human-sized caganer in our neighborhood that represents the clocktower in the main Gracia plaza. It is a huge pooping clocktower that rolls around to different locations. Could you get more festive?
On Christmas Eve, we went to the international church for service. As soon as the first notes of “O Holy Night” rang out, it hit me that it was Christmastime, and we weren’t with our families. I started crying right then and there in church. I really took being with family in the past for the holidays for granted. Thankfully, we weren’t really without family – we had each other.
We cuddled around the Netflix fake fire channel at home as we ate a homemade “Texas-style” meal, which included two of our guilty pleasures: mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese. There were also green beans, but really those were just for show.
I have tried to make Christmas morning breakfasts a special thing the last two years, so this year I made cinnamon buns from scratch.
As we sipped our mimosas and chowed down on cinnamon buns, we opened presents that Santa (Mom!) had brought us. And we didn’t even have to beat our log to get them!
We hurried off to a lunchtime cooking class, where we learned how to make some fancy traditional Catalan dishes and then got to eat our the rewards of our labor! We went with one of our friends here in Barcelona.
Grant made friends with a little girl who was there with her mom. It was amazing, because Grant spoke to her in English, and she spoke back to him in Russian, and somehow, magically, they could communicate! They made a snowman out of dough and folded some pretty cool origami with their napkins.
All in all, here are the dishes we made:
After such a huge meal, I konked out on the couch, while Grant indulged in a game of DOTA.
In the evening, we saw a live ballet performance at the Opera House of The Nutcracker. It was beautiful! It made me want to start taking ballet lessons again. The whole piece was very whimsical, and it was a great way to end Christmas Day!
We were blessed to be able to Facetime with our families despite the distance. We didn’t get a photo with everyone, but this was a great shot with the Marvins and Dittmans!
That’s probably as close as we’ll get to a family photo in 2015 🙂
Hope everyone has a happy new year, and we’ll see you in 2016!