When you move to a foreign country as a full-blown adult, as I did, there are a lot of things that run through your mind in the weeks beforehand. I suppose any time you do something that involves serious change, your brain sort of throws up roadblocks … subconscious anxiety that varies in legitimacy. I definitely was not deterred by these inner voices, but I can’t deny they existed. However, as much as I may have obsessed, I never gave even one thought to something that later proved as much a cultural shift as anything … The holidays.
So obviously Thanksgiving in Spain is a non-starter. This wasn’t such a big deal to me, as it turns out. Not exactly a football fan (though I have since developed a fondness for the Barcelona futbol team, but that’s another story entirely…); not precisely a big fan of turkey either; and certainly not a fan of the genocide of millions of indigenous people, which Thanksgiving kinda sorta celebrates in a roundabout way. My partner Joan and I have adopted a Thanksgiving policy of caipirinhas and fajitas at my favorite Mexican spot in Barcelona, and I’m pretty content with that, plus a little family Skype time where I can eye the stuffing and apple pie.
Now Christmas … that’s a whole other ball of wax. Obviously they celebrate Christmas here in Spain. And many of the traditions are similar, if not exactly the same. For example, Santa and the three wise men sail into Barcelona on a schooner in early December…no Rudolph in sight. But there’s gift-giving, lots of amazing light displays, nativity scenes … Hmm. Well. Okay. So here’s one thing about the nativity scenes in Catalonia. There’s someone shitting in each one. Yep. Shitting. Traditionally, a shepherd. This figure is called a Caganer … a shitter, obv. So yea … dig it … there’s little baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the three Wise Men, some assorted farm animals … and a shepherd with his pants down above a little pile of poo. The explanation for this seems to be a cultural shrug … I still haven’t heard a reason that amounts to much more than…poo is funny. And maybe something to do with fertility? It all sounds like a stretch. But the weirdness of this pales in comparison to the … wait for it … Shitting Log … the Tio de Nadal. Again, defecation is tied to a yuletide tradition. There is at least an explanation for this one … sort of.
Apparently peasant families of the Pyrenees came up with the idea of making a log a central figure in their Christmas celebration. You would wrap the log up in a blanket and feed it and sing to it and tell it your Christmas wishes in the days leading up to Christmas (from December 8th to the 24th.) Sweet, right? Ummm … yea … until the kids go all Lord of the Flies on the 24th and sing a song asking for cheese and candy and treats and BEAT IT WITH STICKS DEMANDING IT SHIT THOSE THINGS OUT. Then, under the blanket … voila. Candy and treats. Then there is something about a stinking herring signalling the end of the fun … and then they BURN THE LOG. In summary … Spain and the States have some pretty serious cultural differences when it comes to the holidays. Also, traditions that aren’t familiar can seem utterly insane from an outside perspective.
In all seriousness though, I love Christmas in Barcelona … however, my favorite aspect might be the week afterwards … a week where I traditionally run off somewhere warm with my partner. I wear my Respokes year-round … they are Spanish espadrilles after all … but I never doubt that the soles belong most on the warm sand of tropical climes.
So … where will you be dreaming of wearing your Respokes this Christmas? Inquiring logs want to know.