It’s now less than two weeks to Christmas, a fact that almost passed me by due to the beautiful weather we’ve been having, the absence of breakfast TV presenters giving you a daily reminder from October onwards of the number of shopping days remaining and the generally more muted tone the Christmas period receives here.
This is the second year I have spent in Barcelona in the run up to the festivities and the first where I will be spending Christmas Day here. For anyone who is a Christmas fanatic this is probably not the best place to be during this season. For others like myself who tire of the excesses, the crazy shopping, the advertising, the ostentacious, garish house decorations and the ‘start’ of the Christmas season creeping earlier and earlier each year in the UK this is the perfect place to hide out.
Not only is there not ‘extreme Christmas’ to quote a friend of mine, but also there are frequent reminders of the true reason for the celebration. Now this has no meaning or significance for me, but I do feel heartened that the commercialisation of the holiday hasn’t completely overshadowed it’s origin.
But the religious significance isn’t followed by all and Santa and the temptation to adorn your dwelling is never far away. The Spanish don’t share the British love of cheap chocolate bars (shame, I do miss Cadbury’s) and as such the mountains of selection boxes are absent from the supermarket shelves. A culture of giving greetings cards also doesn’t exist in the same way as in Britain, therefore card shops bursting at the seams also don’t feature, they have to be hunted down. Fancy some mulled wine, mince pies, Christmas pudding or cake? Get your apron on as it’ll be a challenge to find them, although a trip to Lidl might save you the effort of having to make your own mincemeat. The German markets which have become an integral part of British Christmasses over the last few years are also non-existent. These I do miss, however much they may be a marketing import from Frankfurt and not in the slightest British. The days may have recently been warm but once the sun drops that mug of glühwein would go down a treat.
Now, all this isn’t to say that Barcelona doesn’t have it’s own festive feel. The city is now dotted with stalls and markets selling trees, gorgeous blood red poinsettias, nativity figurines, caga tiós and caganers.
Most families have a nativity scene at home and it’s a tradition to buy new figures every year, there are markets such as the Fira de Santa Llúcia in front of the main cathedral which are crammed at weekends. There’s one person who wasn’t in Bethlehem that night, however, but a belen wouldn’t be complete without him. He is the caganer, literally the pooing Catalan countryman, relieving himself amongst Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus and the wise men. Can you spot him here? In keeping with modern times, the caganer these days might be Messi, Barack Obama or even the Pope with their pants around their ankles.
Christmas Eve also wouldn’t be the same for Catalan children without Caga Tió, this time a log, that excretes small gifts and sweets. I’m not sure what the origins of this fascination with defacating comes from, but I find it very charming and amusing.
caga tio poo log
caga turró poo turrón
avellanas i mató hazlenuts and mató (cheese)
si no cagues bé if you don’t poo well
et daré un cop de bastó I’ll hit you with a stick
caga tió poo log
The caga tió only gives small treats, the main gifts come via Els Reis, The Kings or Three Wise Men, on January 6th the Epiphany. Despite Santa’s arrrival to dilute this culture, for most children Els Reis are the bringers of gifts and their visit is celebrated with a parade in the city which sadly I will miss once again this year.
And what replaces those mountains of chocolate bars, Celebrations, Roses, Quality Streets and the like that we Brits consume by the tin full over the Christmas season and then try in vain to shift with exercise in the New Year? Well here those January gym memberships go to moving the kilos attained from turrón. Slabs of super sweet almond paste, almonds in hard nougat, ones made with egg yolks, bricks of chocolate with hazlenuts and almonds, as well as polverons small delicate almond biscuits which are delicious with strong coffee, crystallised fruit and sugared almonds.
My personal aim for Christmas is an amalgamation of my worlds, my tiny tree, the glühwein and mince pies that I so love merged with some of that teeth tingling turrón and a glimpse of the caganer.
Bon Nadal a tothom / Feliz Navidad a todos / Merry Christmas everyone.