When I was recently in Barcelona with my sister and walking around a Christmas market downtown, we stumbled across a stand with some interesting items… As I had lived in Barcelona for a couple years during my MBA I remembered seeing this, but it was tough to explain to my sister why there were stands full of little figurines pooping – literally. The caga tio. (wikipedia explanation). To make a long story short, this basically comes from a Catalan tale of a log that poops presents. Yes, you read that correctly. Over time, this has transformed into cute little figurines defecating. (I’ll leave out the aforementioned figurine image here for the more traditional log one).
Hey, whatever brings holiday cheer, right? Granted, we Americans have our strange traditions as well, like stuffing a turkey full of bread and eating him once a year in November or running around half-naked in speedos with Santa hats in the freezing cold during the Santa Speedo Run (Santa Speedo Run) (I’m “proud” to say by the way that the latter originated in my hometown of Boston). So, who am I to judge?
(Note: No, I do not know these people in the photo).
As an American living here in Spain for quite some time now, what I would say stands out the most to be about the holidays here is the amount of family events (and of course accompanying food) and the overall length of the festivities. Back in the US we pretty much have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day where the family gets together for food, drinks and presents. Here in Spain everything starts with a big family dinner on Christmas Eve, followed by a lunch on Christmas Day. Some presents may be given on Christmas (this is becoming more popular over the years as the idea of Santa Claus is growing and it makes sense to give kids their presents earlier so they have time to play before going back to school on January 7th), but it’s still not by an means the big gift day.
Next up is a family dinner on New Years Eve. This usually includes the typical grape-eating campanas at midnight where you watch the countdown and then eat 12 grapes to go along with 12 church bell rings. Usually a bit after the countdown is when people will go out to bars to celebrate NYE and stay out until whatever time the next morning. Definitely different than my memories of Boston where you almost always celebrate the countdown at a party and hope to have someone to kiss at midnight. (The good thing about the Spain version is if you don’t have a significant other for the end of the countdown you don’t have to worry as you can always count on your grandparent or pet for a two-cheek peck…!
Next, on New Year’s Day you can expect another big family meal.
But it’s not over here. The bigger gift-exchanging day in Spain falls on January 6th, Three King’s Day. This is similar to the idea of Santa Claus coming down the chimney and leaving gifts, but instead there are three kings who come during the night and leave presents alongside shoes that each family member leaves out before going to bed. And, similar to Santa, the kids usually leave something to eat and drink for the kings. (I remember leaving milk and cookies for Santa, but I must admit it seems more exciting to be leaving a shot of whiskey for the kings. I’m sure they appreciate that much more than a cookie after a long night’s work…). The night before the 6th there’s also usually a big parade with floats organized in cities throughout Spain. The kings and helpers go around the city in floats and throw candy out to all the kids watching the procession and waiting. Fortunately, it seems that this year they are now no longer using a white person painted with black face paint to represent the black king, Baltasar. We’re making progress.
And, last, but not least, January 6th is celebrated with another big family get together and lunch. For kids, I must admit that it’s not at all a bad deal to have so many celebrations and get togethers, especially if you have a large family with a lot of cousins. And for adults, compared to what we’re used to in the States, it’s nice to see more of a mix with family throughout the extended holiday, even when you don’t think you possibly have room for another five-course meal.
One more thing: don’t be surprised to walk around the city center and see people dressed up with Halloween-like wigs all over the place. Usually these are sold in the Christmas markets and people wear them around town.
Getting dressed up with wigs and costumes even makes it into the annual 10k San Silvestre races that are organized in big cities around the country. I ran my first one this year (one word: superanimada. ok, maybe that’s two). In any case I loved it and will definitely be repeating again next year, maybe not with a full costume, but definitely with at least a Santa hat in tow. (I think I’ll leave the Boston speedo tradition for Boston).
Tired (and/or full) yet? Hopefully not. Reyes is just around the corner…
Happy New Year!