I was lucky enough to spend last Christmas in Catalonia (it’s a province of Spain, if you didn’t already know that, you fucking retard). Christmas in Catalonia lasts twelve days instead of just one or two. It’s all about food, family, friends and… fava beans? Yes, fava beans. Find out more in my shitty guide to Christmas in Catalonia.
Christmas Eve dinner was for the immediate family: just my girlfriend’s parents, her brother, and me. We ate snails, fois gras (duck liver paste), paté (meat paste), sobrassada (cured sausage), bread, turrón (honey and almond cake), and turkey. The turkey was my idea. We had so much of it we were eating the leftovers for a week.
Christmas Eve is also the day of the infamous tio.
What’s a tio, you say? I’m glad you asked! Tio means log. On Christmas Eve, kids hit a log with a stick and say “Caga tio!” Caga means… pooping. So… it’s a pooping log! Weird. Kids also sing this song while hitting it:
d’aquell tan bo
si no tens més
si no tens prou
caga un ou.
Poop some delicious cake.
If you run out of cake
Then poop money.
And if you don’t have enough money
Then poop an egg.
After hitting the poor log viciously with sticks, the kids then swipe away the blanket to reveal… *drum roll* …presents! Yup, the log doesn’t drop big stinking turds, but presents instead. Either that or the parents just hid the presents there earlier. I guess we’ll never know.
On Christmas Day, Catalans have a big lunch with their extended family. People start arriving at 1pm and don’t leave until 6pm or 7pm. The bastards.
My girlfriend’s family hosted the dinner this year. Aunts, uncles, and cousins all crawled out of the woodwork for the free lunch. For starters, we had vol-au-vents (puff pastry) and creamed cod. After that, we ate snails, shrimps, salad, stuffed calamari, and lamb. And for dessert, we ate chocolate and turron. Sorry for describing the food in such detail. Man, I’m hungry.
Here’s a picture of my girlfriend’s brother (left) ruining the shot.
On Boxing Day, we played Catalan bingo.
Catalan bingo works like this: Everyone has a bingo card with the numbers 1-89 written on them. The announcer calls out numbers one by one, and you put a corn kernel on that number. (Don’t ask me why corn kernels.) If you’re the first person to fill a row of five numbers, you shout “LINEA!” and win a prize. If you’re really lucky and get all the numbers in one of the six big boxes, you shout “QUINA!” and win one of the biggest prizes.
I knew I was going to win before I even started. I was the foreigner, so I had to win. I had the luck of the foreigner.
But as the night went on, I kept losing. Around me, other people were shouting “Quina!” and “Linea!” and winning boxes of goodies. But no prizes for poor me.
My optimism took a nose dive. I couldn’t be bothered playing anymore. I just wanted to go home. I was barely keeping track of the numbers anymore. Which is why I was astonished when I actually completed one of the big boxes of numbers. My girlfriend looked at my bingo sheet and screamed “QUINA!” on my behalf.
The organisers handed me my wonderful, wonderful prize: a box containing cava, white wine, llonganissa (cured sausage), fuet (another type of cured sausage), two boxes of cookies, a tin of biscuits, madeleines (cupcakes), three tickets to the cinema, a voucher for a meal at a restaurant, a voucher for a frozen yogurt, a ticket for Girona’s cinema museum, a voucher for a trekking expedition, a voucher for churros and a hot chocolate, a book about Catalan sayings, an (admittedly rather crappy) statue of an angel, a game for kids, and best of all, a cured pig’s leg. The pig’s leg alone was probably worth almost €100. It was the best day of my life.
By New Year’s Eve we’d already eaten a quarter of the pig’s leg. Despite feeling bloated, we celebrated New Year’s Eve with a dinner at a friend’s house. Each guest brought food, which meant we had an eclectic mix of prawns, chicken, roast potatoes, spring rolls, bread, hummus, crisps, and olives. Sorry again for describing the food in such obsessive detail. I’m still hungry.
At midnight, we followed a Catalan tradition: we ate one grape every time the clock chimed. That’s twelves grapes, since the clock chimes twelve times. At first I thought I was supposed to keep them all in my mouth, like a hamster. Then I realised I was allowed to swallow them and all was good.
In Catalonia, it’s not Santa who brings presents to kids: it’s the three kings of the Orient instead. You know, those three kings who brought Jesus shitty gifts like frankincense and myrrh.
And Catalan kids don’t get their main Christmas presents on Christmas day. Nope, they have to wait until January 6th. Man, it sucks to be a Catalan kid. Just picture it: on Christmas day, while the rest of the world is playing with their new drones and hoverboards, the Catalan kid has to sit like a dumb fuck and wait another eleven days for his main presents.
(Note: My girlfriend says I’m wrong. She says Catalan kids have two sets of presents: one set on Christmas Eve, and the other set on January 6th. So the Catalan kids have it better, if anything.)
On January 5th, every town in Catalonia holds a parade to welcome the three kings of the Orient. During the Girona parade, kids chant the ‘three wise men’ song, over and over, as loud as they can. The louder they sing, the more candy the kings throw at them. Here’s the song:
Visca els tres reis
Que porten coses a tota la gent
Una botifarra per la meva mare
I un got de vi per el meu padrí
Un tall de coca per la meva boca
I un tros de pa per el meu germà
Long live the three kings
of the Orient
who bring gifts for everyone.
A sausage for my mother
A cup of wine for my godfather
A slice of spongecake for my mouth
And a piece of bread for my brother.
In the evening, families in Girona celebrate with another special dinner. That’s what Christmas in Girona is all about, really: dinner after dinner after dinner. We had bread, olives, salad, cured ham sobrassada, cheese and crisps.
For dessert, we had tortell de reis, which in English means “Kings’ cake”. It’s a cake stuffed with cream and topped with glazed fruit.
There’s a tiny figure of a king hidden in the cake, and if you’re lucky enough to find it, then you get to wear a paper crown. It must be the Catalan equivalent of pulling a Christmas cracker.
But be warned: there’s also a fava bean hidden in the cake…. and if you’re unlucky enough to get that, you have to pay for the entire cake. I did get the fava bean, but I was sly enough to secrete it onto my girlfriend’s dad’s plate when no-one was looking. At least, I think no-one was looking. Perhaps they just ignored me out of politeness.
At night, children leave a shoe in their living room. The shoe lets the three kings know where to leave the presents. My girlfriend insisted that we both leave our shoes out, even though we’re both grown adults.
When we woke up, there were presents next to our shoes. The three kings came after all! Long live the awesome three kings!
The kings (a.k.a. my girlfriend’s parents) gifted me a jumper. Merry Christmas, one and all!