Tió de Nadal, A Catalan Christmas Tradition

Main Piece:

“The Tio de Nadal is a Catalan Christmas tradition that some Catalonia immigrant communities brought with them to other parts of the world, particularly in the Western Hemisphere there are big Catalan populations that still do it. But basically what it is a little log that you prop up on a kind of legs or stool or something. You can draw a face on it, you don’t have to. You put a blanket on it but you put it up weeks before Christmas and then it’s something fun for kids to do because you get a stick and you beat on it with the stick. And there’s all sorts of Catalan language chants and little songs, you know like Christmas songs, that they sing to encourage the log to shit out presents. Like small nuts and candies are the traditional idea because its a medieval tradition so like little sweets basically. The idea is that if you hit the log well enough, then on Christmas, you can take off the blanket and then the little kids are gonna have a bunch of little almonds or cheeses or something that they got from the log. There’s all sorts of names for it but there are regional specifications in Catalonia.”


The informant is a 21-year old male from Kansas City, Missouri who has lived there for the majority of his life. For his elementary and middle-school schooling, he studied at a school with a Spanish immersion program, making him near fluent in Spanish. Furthermore, he now attends Georgetown University where he intends to graduate with a major in History and a minor in Spanish. Last semester, he spent several months living in Madrid as part of a study abroad program.


This was a conversation we had late at night about Holiday celebrations around the world.


This piece, to me, seems very rooted in old Catalan culture. One of the most interesting revelations that came about researching this topic and talking to my informant is how the piece relates to Catalan identity. Catalonia has infamously had issues with the Spanish mainland as it relates to their own identity. Oftentimes, the celebration and practice of Catalan traditions have been restricted in order to better assimilate them into Spanish culture, so by celebrating these old traditions, it seems like a method of rejecting the push to assimilate and a method of maintaining their own unique identity from Spain. The other interesting part to this piece is the timing of the piece as it is close to Christmas, which is a liminal time for a majority of Europe.  As mentioned above, the origins of the practice go as far back as Medieval times and it seems to still be practice in Catalan culture. Furthermore, it does not seem to fit into the Christian canon of traditions associated with Christmas, making me feel like this might have roots back to Pagan rituals. This outlook is only further supported by the emphasis of the piece being wood, which would fit the notion of Pagan holidays that celebrate the natural world. Finally, the informant is not from Spain, but has visited there and taken the culture and reworked it into his own Christmas celebrations which somewhat shows the spread of originally location-specific culture to entirely new places and contexts. This type of reinterpretations across such a large physical location would not be nearly as possible with modernity and the increase in cross-cultural communications.