Jingle Bells, fairy lights, big family meals and gifts are all part of Christmas just about everywhere in the western world, but each country has its own festive idiosyncrasies and traditions, and Catalonia is no different. One of the best - and perhaps strangest - examples of how a Catalan Christmas is different from elsewhere is the figure of the Tió de Nadal (pictured). In the days before Christmas, households will have a log with a painted smiley face propped up on two sticks, wearing a traditional barretina hat and covered in a blanket so it doesn’t get ’cold’. Children take care of the log, and even ’feed’ it, with the idea of fattening it up in time for the big day, usually Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. When the big moment arrives, the kids hit the log with sticks, calling on it to ’defecate’ gifts. When the blanket is removed, lo and behold, the log will have magically deposited some presents.
Yet the tío is not the only thing you need to celebrate a real Catalan Christmas, as apart from the rude caganer figurine doing his or her business (see page 44 for more information on that!), no Catalan Christmas is complete without a Nativity Scene with its full cast of characters representing the traditional story of Christ’s birth, as well as a poinsettia, the luscious, red-leaved plant that decorates homes at this time of year, not to forget some of the sweet nougat bars known as torró.
Where am I going to find all of that, you might ask. Well, never fear, because another feature of Christmas in Catalonia are the traditional festive markets held all over the country, which sell everything you need for the holiday period, as well as giving you a good excuse for a day out. Perhaps the biggest market is the Santa Llúcia Fair held every year in Barcelona, which sees over 200 stalls set up around the city’s cathedral. So get in the Christmas mood, and check out the nearest market near you.