Correct these mistakes for Christmas

‘Tis the season to be jolly, and there’s nothing jollier than knowing your vocabulary. Therefore, today we’re learning about two Catalan words that foreigners tend to get wrong.

Now that the tió tradition has gone properly international thanks to Kate McKinnon (see video below), it’s time to debunk the belief that tió means uncle. ‘If you know basic Spanish’ some people say and even write on their blogs ‘you’ll know that tío means uncle’. Well, yes; but we’re talking about a Catalan tradition, hence a Catalan word. Tió—not tío—means log, as Kate explains. And isn’t it obvious? I mean, just look at the bloody thing.

What Kate doesn’t get so right is calling it cagatió. However, there is currently a debate among natives about this issue (trending topic included: #EsDiuTió). As the song to make the tió poo presents starts with ‘Caga tió’, which literally translates to ‘poo [imperative] log’, some use this as the log name and that’s wrong. Conversely, cagatió is indeed a word that means the act of making the tió poo, the event. So you’ll say: On the evening of the 24th we’re doing the cagatió and the tió will poo lots of sweets and presents for us.

It's only Barcelona, BCN or Barna

It’s only Barcelona, BCN or Barna

A not-so-festive issue, but relevant any time a foreigner mentions Barcelona, is what you can call the Catalan capital. Barcelona is the official name, that’s easy. BCN is a well-known and correct abbreviation. There is only one more alternative: Barna, from Bar(celo)na. Barça (pronounced ‘barsa’) is just a name for the football team. So calling the city Barça or Barsa is utterly wrong. Mispronouncing the wrong term and calling it Barca (‘barka’) is even worse, as barca means boat.

So you finally know it and you can sound a bit wiser this Christmas. Now go, deck the halls and don your gay apparel, unless you live in an extremely religious country. Ah, the irony!

Go compare Christmas

When you celebrate Christmas in a different country go compare! That’s what happens when a Catalan spends his Christmas holiday in England.

Go compare!

24th Dec. In both England and Catalonia the birth of Jesus is celebrated at midnight in churches by fewer people every time. I guess that the most important thing is the expectation for waking up the following day to discover the presents delivered by their respective characters.

25th Dec. English families find the presents delivered by Father Christmas under the tree. Turkey, Christmas pudding and mince pies are eaten. Catalan presents are sort of delivered by Tió, a log with face and covered with a blanket. The tradition stems from the use of logs in the fireplace to keep warm. Tió is kept somewhere in the house and fed fruit some days before Christmas, then kids sing him songs and hit him with sticks — like stirring the fire —  and it defecates [I don’t make the traditions] Christmas nougat and rolled wafers and some minor present. Escudella, a thick soup with pasta and meat balls, and chicken or turkey are eaten.

26th Dec. In England, Boxing Day is a bank holiday and, although it was a date for the rich to share with the poor, it’s become the first day of sales. In Catalonia, Sant Esteve is also a bank holiday, however, nothing special is done.

28th Dec. Englishmen feel pity for the undeveloped south European-north African Catalan, who dare celebrate April Fools’ in December under the name of Sants Innocents.

31st Dec. In England — and most of the world — there’s a countdown and the new year is welcomed with impressive fireworks. In Catalonia the home dels nassos or man of the noses walks the streets; kids are encouraged to find the man with as many noses as days left in the year. At midnight Catalan people eat twelve grapes as the bells strike twelve, which are meant to bring good luck.

6th Jan. Since Catalan kids only received minor presents on the 25th, the Three Wise Men from the East deliver the main presents of the season while they sleep so that they’ll find them in the morning.

Go compare!

Christmas and karma

Streets have been dressed up with lights for some weeks now, everybody is happy and nice because Christmas is coming and that’s how it’s supposed to be and choosing the best presents is the only thing that worries them.

Christmas is a weird season. Goodness and love fill the air and nothing that happened before matters anymore. Those who see the glass half full argue that we’re nice at least once a year; opponents criticise the agreed hypocrisy as an oasis of goodness doesn’t mean a thing after a year of evil.

This leads to the question: Why do Spanish people regard Christmas as an essential celebration and keep receiving gifts from the Three Wise Men if religion seems to be out of date? There’s no lack of alternatives; they can celebrate winter solstice — which was the original celebration — and receive gifts from their non-religious traditional characters. Christian tradition has undeniably taken roots in our society.

Karma is bad.

Were mystical excuses needed, we could look for something more neutral, less fantastic or lyrical, something such as karma. Reincarnations aside, karma is just a cause-effect concept according to which what you give if what you get. Fair as it sounds, many won’t like being forced to be nice all the time to be able to live in peace.

No wonder it’s perceived as normal to be nice for two weeks and forget about a whole year of wickedness in a religious context that forgives sins such as murder by just a secret confession. A philosophy that means a broken nail after acting badly is no match for that.

Saint George’s Day: books, roses and lies

I happened to post on Saint Valentine’s Day and Saint George’s Day by chance. And it seems we have another episode of the Anglo-Catalan culture.

Such a fierce dog-sized dragon!

Catalan people have our version of Saint George’s legend by Jacobus de Voragine. We say that the dragon’s blood turned into a beautiful rose Saint George gave the princess. On 23rd April, we give roses and books to our couple or couples (that’s a self-management issue, not a linguistic one). In 1995, UNESCO got inspired by this and decided that the World Book and Copyright Day would be celebrated on the same date.

The rose has been in our tradition since the 15th century. The book was added to it last century because of a dubious reason. Both Cervantes and Shakespeare died on 23rd April 1616. In fact, Cervantes died on the 22nd and was buried on the 23rd and Shakespeare did die on the 23rd, but according to the Julian calendar — 3rd May according to the Gregorian calendar. Anyway, books are worth the lie.

Apart from these literary reasons, Saint George is the patron saint of England and Catalonia. Moreover, this year’s 23rd April is the only day in the year a god is dead. Being atheists, should my piece of England and I use the planets alignment and get married today? We’ll think about it, the day isn’t over yet.

Saint Valentine may not be a Catalan tradition, but…

We spend our lives thinking that we betray our motherland with foreign celebrations, but maybe we were doing just fine.

I’ve always been interested in things from outside Catalonia; mainly in cultures, ways of life, languages, traditions… Some years ago I told a friend of mine how I envied her intercultural relationship with an English boy, I wanted someone exotic for me too. Last week I found her after a long time and was able to tell her that I also have an English partner.

I’m writing about this because today it is Saint Valentine’s Day, something that I’ve always ignored in favour of the Catalan traditional lover’s day Sant Jordi. Well, being on an intercultural relationship myself now I’ll celebrate both things, English and Catalan, for we both want to keep our culture and learn from the other’s one.

As I accepted to celebrate Saint Valentine, I did some research on it and found something surprising. Saint Valentine was a Roman martyr who lived in the 3rd century, whose relics were moved to Catalonia and to whom some chapels were devoted.

The worship to this saint seems to be focused on weather issues here, a Catalan poem about Saint Valentine as a love day written in the 15th century —when Saint Valentine was first documented in England and Scotland— was found. I’ll celebrate Saint Valentine just like Sant Jordi, no matter whether it is also Catalan or not.

What do you think?

Father Christmas doesn’t exist; folders do

Christmas is almost over. Yesterday it was a special gift day in Spain and today we’re supposed to enjoy our presents. But you know I don’t really fancy them. Even though, I have to fight four magic gift phenomena.


These phenomena are: the Three Wise Men from the East, Father Christmas, Olentzero and Tió.

The Three Wise Men in Spain are just the Magic Kings. It’s better if they are magic and rich to do what they are supposed to do. At home we only received presents from them. Tió is the traditional Catalan one, but we are a humble family and couldn’t afford both things. Tió was easier to skip because the Wise Men were always in the media and Spain is so stuck in monarchy.

Father Christmas is much more international. He broke into our homes ― not into mine, too humble ―, but that’s what his job is about, entering people’s houses without being noticed.

Olentzero is less well-known. He is the Basque Father Christmas. Beggar Christmas, we could say. He doesn’t come from the North Pole riding a sleigh and wearing an expensive coat, but he walks down the mountains dressed in rags. This is not surprising; he can’t afford many luxuries if he has to buy presents for all the Basque kids.


And last but not least, the Catalan Tió. It’s a log with face which we feed for some days so we can hit him with sticks and get him shit some presents for us.

And I didn’t get a present from any of them, but I received a gift from a folder. Yes, yesterday morning I opened a folder and found one hundred euros I forgot inside it some weeks ago. It was not a bad Christmas Season after all.

Non-rhetorical question: What presents did you get? And from which of the above?