Three years ago, I wrote about my first experiences in Barcelona – a city previously unknown to me that I had decided to start a new life in. As this is where the first ideas for this blog came from, I thought it fitting to document my exploits here. These posts started out life as emails to my friends and family during my time there.
A Christmas message from me to wish everyone a happy festive period and to share just a few bits and pieces that I’ve found particularly amusing in the run up to the holidays in Barcelona.
I think I officially started off my Christmas eating yesterday by going for a three course lunch for only 17€ (with wine, water and bread – hallelujah menú del día!)! Not that I was paying as this was on the account of the first ever Catalan friend I made in Barcelona a mere half hour after touch down (full account in the first Barcelona blog piece). My Christmas eating continued in the evening with another three course meal, this time on the account of one of the schools I teach at. Working at three schools means three celebratory Christmas meals; permanent Christmas food baby, here I come!
Part of one of my meals yesterday included a typical dish of canelones – yes, that well known Catalan foodstuff..? Well, obviously it’s Italian but somewhere along the line Catalonia decided to take pasta eating from the Italians and make it theirs, as they also have a special pasta soup that they eat on Christmas day, which is so important and traditional that, of course, GIANT pasta shells need to be scattered across the city in decoration! I suppose they look quite nice and, if I was a kid, I would definitely be crawling around inside them. I would actually do that as an adult too as I could fit in them easily but I think I’d probably break them and get dirty looks from the pasta-loving Catalans.
You also know that it’s Christmas in Spain thanks to all the giant legs of cured, slightly mouldy looking ham, jamón – or “jam”, as my mispronouncing students often like to tell me – hanging around all over the place; you literally bump into them in shops! They cost a blooming fortune and, traditionally, businesses would give them out to their employees as Christmas gifts but, what with the economic ‘crisis’ and cutbacks, people are barely even receiving turrón from their bosses these days – tablets of anything sweet, more or less, made of nuts, honey, nougat, marzipan, chocolate… basically if it’s sweet and can somehow be formed into a rectangular block of sticky yumminess then it’s a turrón!
Other clues that it’s Christmas (because the weather sure ain’t one of them, seeing how it’s gone back up to about 16 degrees again) are the beautiful fairy lights all over the city. They spent ages putting them up but not turning them on until one night when I was walking home from work, minding my own business, and came across thousands of people in the streets. Only then did I twig that the lights were on and people must be out in celebration. I didn’t know the half of it, though: these people were not really out for the lights but out for the big street party that had set itself up on the fanciest, most bourgeois Avenue in town – Passeig de Gracia – where all the shops you could never afford to shop in can be found.
Apparently, the general consensus was to flip two fingers up at the economic crisis and pretend, for one night only, that you were of the ilk that schmooze around drinking champagne, shop in Prada and wear sunglasses at night time… I am, of course, talking about late night Christmas shopping until about 3 o’clock in the morning which accompanies the illumination of the city’s Christmas lights, and on Passeig de Gracia, it happens in a big way.
It was quite fascinating as there were mini-catwalk shows taking place, pop up VIP bars all down the middle of the avenue, mostly selling gin mixers (THE drink of the moment over here) full of people being just faaaabulous daaaahling, and shops with DJs mixing in the windows with competing sound systems. It was all a bit of a ‘look at me’ event and I was actually quite happy to be looking at the look-at-me characters who’d made a big effort to be looked at by the slightly dazed onlookers like me!
By the way, Merry Christmas – Feliz Navidad in Castillian – is actually Bon Nadal in Catalan. When I learnt this I realised that meant that Spain’s top tennis player is technically called Rafael Christmas! And, of course, that made me smile 🙂
Finally, I will leave you with my most absolute favourite discovery about Christmas in Catalonia, which still makes me burst into fits of giggles when I think about it and I couldn’t not share it.
Children in Catalonia don’t generally celebrate with stockings and Father Christmas, no. They have something entirely different: they have a tió – known to all the rest of us as a log. Now, Christmas logs aren’t that unusual but the ritual performed with a log in this part of the world verges on the perverse and absolutely tickles me!
Tió gets painted with a face, given a Christmas hat and, if it’s particularly cold, it gets wrapped in a scarf too. In the run up to Christmas, Tió sits in the house and the children faithfully feed it with oranges, cakes – whatever logs generally like to eat – and give it water every day. It’s important to fatten up Tió as much as possible, the reason for which will now become clear. When it comes to Christmas day, the tradition can vary slightly depending on the family but the basics of it are this: the children get a stick and sing a song whilst HITTING TIO SO THAT IT SHITS OUT THEIR CHRISTMAS PRESENTS!!!!!!!
And with that thought, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy holiday period in general!