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!

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?