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!

‘The Christmas Books’

DICKENS, Charles: The Christmas Books — A Christmas Carol · The Chimes · The Cricket on the Hearth. London: Penguin Books, 1994.

‘Along with The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth, A Christmas Carol celebrates the joys of the festive season. Each of these books is politically provocative and aims to stimulate the reader’s pity and charity for the poor, but the tone is so intimate and the style so humorous that poverty and ignorance yield to generosity and compassion.’

The cover shows a detail from an illustration by Arthur Rackham

The cover shows a detail from an illustration by Arthur Rackham

Having seen all kinds of remakes and interpretations and allusions to A Christmas Carol, but having never read the actual novel, it came as obvious that I should acquire the present compilation. This story is much richer and deeper — and darker — than any version I had been exposed to before, obviously. This prevented the reading from boredom, which doesn’t mean I finally approve of the unrealistic change of Scrooge at the end.

Reading The Chimes was extremely exhausting to me as there’s way too much description and very little happens. It reminded me of David Copperfield, which I put down because of this endless and empty description. The Cricket on the Hearth was an improvement to the second story for it had padding-free descriptions and a noticeably unusual yet simple plot with unexpected turns. I’m still not here nor there about Dickens, though.

And so this is Christmas (again)

My news feed on Facebook is full of Christmas pictures and everybody seems to be having some great holidays but me. So, let’s go with the flow.

Chemists decorate their labs too. [Avans University of Applied Sciences]

Chemists decorate their labs too. [Avans University of Applied Sciences]

In theory, a proper Christmas involves decorating the house. There were four lonely baubles from last year at home, but there was no tree. That’s when you appreciate having a Chinese shop next door, where you can find a two-feet-tall tree for three euros and tinsel, which, together with the baubles, make your living room much nicer. Additionally, I decorated my mother’s place two weekends ago, since nobody does it anymore.

Skiing and ice skating are also two very typical Christmas activities. I fail to see why, though. It’s not like there’s plenty of snow or ice around Barcelona. Regardless of the reason, I went ice skating with the weird English guy to an outdoor ice rink in the centre of the city. He wasn’t excited about encouraging the immoderate energy waste needed to keep it cold out there, but he wanted to “keep the city in the black”.

Simply decorating the house and ice skating, however, won’t make a proper Christmas, for family meals are essential. On the 25th, there was a board games session after lunch. On the 26, it was the turn for films. On both days we had a light dinner.

Unimpressive as this deduction may be, if it’s Christmas, New Year’s Eve is close. No wonder I was invited to a cottage for the weekend. The problem with nice and attractive people is that we forget the obvious reasons for things as the obvious reason seem for them to be looking for a date.

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!


Do you remember that the last post ended with a clue of what I was doing for Christmas? The time has come to reveal the truth.

Black Country dialect.

If yowm saf enuff ter cum dahn ‘ere agooing wum, yowr tay ull be spile’t! Maybe you’ve already recognised this as the Black Country dialect from the West Midlands in England. If you haven’t, the translation into standard English would be: If you’re soft enough to come down here when going home, your tea will be spoiled!

I’m obviously visiting my in-laws. I’d call them out-laws since I’m not married — yet? —, but they don’t do illegal business as far as I know. Anyway, I’m having my first genuinely English Christmas ever. I must admit and celebrate that English Christmas food has nothing to do with the reputation of their everyday gastronomy. I should also add that I won a game of Scrabble against two well-educated native people. Arrogant as it sounds, I don’t intend to show off; I’m just promoting myself as a language professional.

There’s only one thing that bothers me about this whole English holiday. I’m Catalan, therefore my biological clock runs one hour faster than the English clock. Should I celebrate the new year at 11 pm? It’ll be weird to pretend that nothing happens knowing that all my people are already in 2012. But then, I’ve always enjoyed the weird things of life.

Christmas meals are back

Yesterday was the last day of school of this year and I’m sure lots of dinner parties were held around Catalonia.

Since I woke up yesterday and until I went back to bed this morning, I was in constant celebration. At school the kids gave a Christmas concert using songs from Disney films with new lyrics written by the music teacher. They were lovely. As there weren’t lessons in the afternoon, we had a Christmas lunch in the school. I ate a lot and I was having fun, but I had to leave to give the last lesson of the year at the academy.

Having had a festive morning, knowing that the night was going to be even better and having adorable kids in my class, time flew playing two speaking games. Then I found some Christmas snacks (different kinds of nougat and rolled wafer) in the teachers’ room. Much as I wished to stay, I wanted to drop by my old laboratory — where the traditional Christmas party was taking place — before I went back to the dinner party of the academy.

I couldn’t have possibly imagined that it was going to be such an ostentatious dinner party. We had even had a music group to play after the meal; but the party didn’t finish when they stopped playing as some of us looked for somewhere else to end the night properly.

It was a great day indeed. What about your dinner parties for the season? And are you doing anything special for the holidays? Here’s a clue of what I’m doing for Christmas: If yowm saft enuff ter cum dahn ’ere agooin wum, yowr tay ull be spile’t!