First Holidays Abroad: Chrismas

Since we arrived fully in Barcelona at the start of October, we chose not to return to the United States for Christmas. It was a good choice for us, as nobody was near ready to travel again so sooner after our extended visa-cation.

November in Barcelona was rainy, but December dried up. It was about as cold as the winter has gotten–plenty of days down around 7C/45F, but with the sun out, still comfortable enough for wandering to parks and fighting with the children about wearing a jacket. The cooler weather also excused us to spend a lot of the holiday time finishing up the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (one of the best video games I’ve ever played) as a family (I drive, everyone else plays copilot, which is getting harder and harder as the kids get more able to play games themselves).


Travel lets you see the world through a different lens. I find that holidays provide a particularly sharp opportunity to re-examine what’s “normal.”

In Spain a key difference around Christmas is that they have not one, but two gift giving days. In times past, Christmas was more likely to be a religious and family holiday, with gift giving centered instead around Three Kings Day, on January 6th (more on that in a later post!)

We debated heavily whether to open presents on Christmas or Three Kings. In the end, we went with Christmas simply to maximize the kids time-off from school that they could use their new things. (We kept a fairly strict one-thing-you-want, one-thing-you-need, one-thing-to-read policy given our small space… we only failed it on the reading material 😂) The idea of keeping Christmas more family focused, with another time to give presents, though, was intriguing.

We invited a family from the kids’ school over on the evening of Christmas Eve. Back in the States our friends Faith and Aaron throw a yearly Christmas Eve party that we try not to miss, and while this was far smaller in scale, we took inspiration from them in having the cured meats, good cheeses, and sot suppe (Norwegian Sweet Soup).

The Tree

As November wound down, we bought what I still consider the perfect Christmas tree:

We ended end up getting a more traditional artificial tree as well, but this more eloquently expresses my feelings about life in Barcelona.

Tió de Nadal

Catalonia is home to a truly unique Christmas tradition. I’d noticed on a work trip to Barcelona the year before that there were lots of little logs with smiley faces painted on them, especially in the Christmas markets. At the time I thought no more about it, not realizing the rich tradition of Tió de Nadal, aka Caga Tió.

Image result for caga tio image

If you have a moment, one of the clearest explanations of this for English speakers comes from Viggo Mortensen:

For those not inclined to video (or wikipedia) the short story is: families bring home these smiling logs, the kids feed them for the whole month–think a cross between an advent calendar and leaving cookies out for Santa–and then, after all this loving care…. they beat the log with a stick, singing a song that literally says, ahem, “poop log!” so it gives them presents. No kidding, at our Thanksgiving dinner we were discussing this tradition, and the entire table burst out with the song in unison.

Nothing says Christmas to me like a smiling log pooping presents!

2 thoughts on “First Holidays Abroad: Chrismas”

  1. The pooping gift log is so very festive! So glad to read that your family is thriving and embracing fun new traditions! We miss you, but love reading about this great adventure. Abrazos!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *