Catalan Traditions

I went to the school of the little girl I take care of and joined the mother’s group for the day. This week they were practicing English, so I joined to help. I was introduced to the English teacher/administrator at this school and I realized that she was the first person I had met that spoke very fluent English with an American accent. We were the only fluent speakers in the room, but I told them about my experiences, very slowly and careful to avoid slang/jargon.

I learned a lot that day about Catalan traditions. During the Christmas season, a log called tio, not to be confused with tío (meaning uncle), lives with a family. This is a log with a face and four legs. He has a blanket laid over him that’s hiding the presents (the stocking stuffer type presents). Each day, the children leave food out for tio and he grows and grows. On Christmas Eve or day, the children sing a song to el tio, remove the blanket, and find the presents! The funniest part was when the mothers were trying to explain the song to me. Essentially, the part when the children tell the log to go to the bathroom while hitting it with a stick. Much more fun than leaving cookies for Santa and opening a large sock.

Interestingly enough, there is another tradition specific to Catalan that involves going to the bathroom. Before I mention this next tradition, I want to emphasize that religion is an important part of people’s lives here. It is not a private thing like it is in the US, but something to share with others. Now, it is common for families to set up nativity scenes in their houses around the Christmas season.  The figures include Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the three wise men, you know the normal, but in Catalan, there is also el Caganer. El Caganer is a man going to the bathroom, just squatting down and doing his business amidst the birth of the baby Jesus. I decided to trust Wikipedia on the history, and apparently it’s been a tradition since at least the 18th century. It is important to realize that this figure is not meant to be disrespectful. While it may seem odd to us, it is simply a comical tradition that is practiced by families all around Catalonia.

El tio being whapped with a stick by a present seeking child.

El tio being whapped with a stick by a present seeking child.

images

El Caganer!

I am a horrible dancer, but for exercise and fun we decided to go to the gym’s dance class. SO much fun. There were Spanish, Catalan, and even some songs by Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga. It is difficult to learn Spanish while out and about because everyone speaks Catalan. According to my host mother, most everyone is at least bilingual with Catalan and Spanish; however, the language of choice is Catalan. There are enough differences between the languages to make it difficult to understand, but with context, I can usually understand the general idea.

So at dance class, we were introduced to some girls studying English at the local university. After class, they asked if we wanted to be a part of “carnaval,” an annual festival. I had heard about it but didn’t know much. It is essentially a huge carnival, celebrated on different days throughout February, depending on the city in Spain. The day/week is full of glitter, sequins, parades, music, and if you’re in the town of Sitges, can be a little crazy. These elaborate costumes are supposedly a sight to see. I did not get a chance to visit Sitges, but I will be able to experience carnaval on a less crazy level in Igualada.

So back to my main point. Another au pair and I have been practicing certain dances for our grand performance in Igualada. We will be clad in white pants, white shirt, tool, and masks dancing our hearts out. A little nervous? Yes. It’s not until Feb 9th, so I’ll let you know how it goes.

 I’ve also started teaching very informal “classes of conversation.”  Since many people are interested in learning English, it was easy to find a local that was interested. We meet two times a week for coffee and simply talk about a certain topic in English for an hour.  Mainly, we have been working on interview skills and pronunciation.

I’m also looking into doing some volunteering at a local school once a week. Most likely, I will be conversing with adolescents in English to help them improve. Haven’t started that yet, but I’ll be sure to keep you updated.

Well that’s all for now!  I’m happy to say that I’ve become involved around the community and at the same time experiencing many things the Spanish life and Igualada has to offer.  

Deú! (Catalán for Adios!, which is Spanish for Goodbye!)

Faith Lindsay is currently participating in the CE Au Pair in Spain program.

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