A French Catalan Christmas

Neus and Cédric plan to celebrate French and Catalan Christmas traditions with their newborn son.

CNA / Jordi Font

December 21, 2010 11:01 PM

Paris (ACN).- Unlike Catalonia, French children do not receive gifts from the Three Kings (Three Wise Men). But the sweet King’s Cake, similar to the Catalan ‘tortell’, is an essential part of the French Christmas season. In Catalonia it is eaten on the 6th of January and in France around this day. “The children go under the table where they cannot see anything and decide who each piece of cake goes to”, said Neus. Neus has been living in Paris for over 10 years with Parisian man Cédric. The couple agrees that Catalonia has maintained many more Christmas traditions than France has. A recent addition to the family, their two-month old newborn son, is inspiring the couple to celebrate both French and Catalan Christmas traditions.

Neus moved to Paris 10 years ago to begin a career in drama. There she met Cédric, also an actor, with whom she recently had a son, Marçal. Neus is originally from Cerdanya county (in the Pyrenees), where she always ate the traditional ‘sopa de galets’ (a traditional Catalan soup with pasta) every Christmas. She was surprised to find out that French families change the Christmas menu every year.  Cédric explained that this is because there are thousands of traditional dishes in France, one of the reasons French cuisine was recognised as an element of Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. “Mediterranean cuisine was also recognised”, Neus added while laughing.

Similar the Catalan ‘tortell’, the French King’s Cake is made of puff pastry and filled with cream, custard or chocolate. In France, the cake is eaten on the second Sunday after Christmas, coinciding or close to the day of the Epiphany, the 6th of January. Like the Catalan ‘tortell’, the King’s Cake has a king and a bean baked inside it. But in France, the “innocent hand” of a child must decide who receives each piece. Therefore, the youngest member of the family goes under the table and calls out who will get each piece of cake. The person receiving the bean is symbolically punished and the one getting the king is rewarded.

Neus and Cédric believe that Catalonia has maintained many more Christmas traditions than France has and think that the May 1968 protests may have something to do with it. “The idea of wanting to be rid of everything that could chain you to tradition could dilute the notion of the family and Christmas habits”, said Neus. She believes that the Franco regime’s conservatism helped top preserve the traditions in Spain.

The couple will celebrate Christmas Eve at home with Cédric’s parents and the Epiphany in Cerdanya county, on the 6th of January, with 50 people from Neus’ family. This is the day that Catalan children got their presents, as well as on the 25th of December with the Tió (or Caga Tió), which literally means "poop log". Is is a wooden log that under a blanket "poops" presents out to the kids when it is hit with a stick.

Our son is an opportunity to make new traditions

A few days before the holiday, there is still no Christmas tree. But the couple assures that they have one every year. They are selective with Christmas traditions and said that their newborn son has inspired them to think about new ways of celebrating both French and Catalan Christmas traditions. “Now I have the freedom to invent my own Christmas traditions based on family and not on business or religious aspects ", explained Cédric.

So when Marçal gains enough strength in his arms, the couple plans to give him a stick to hit the ‘caga tió’, the Catalan Christmas log. “This is really a beautiful tradition. I like the idea of feeding the log until it poops out presents”, said Cédric.