Esther Jeannotte, a Catalan living in New York: “In the US, your Christmas tree should touch the ceiling!”

Esther and Dylan Jeannotte are celebrating Christmas this year in New York with their two children. While their Christmas celebrations are very American, native Catalan Esther is slowly incorporating Catalan traditions such as the ‘caga tió’ and ‘sopa de galets’.

CNA / Ariadna Matamoros

December 23, 2010 11:07 PM

New York (ACN).- Originally from the Catalan town of Blanes, Esther Jeannotte lives in New York with her husband, New Yorker Dylan Jeannotte, and their two children, Liam and Laia. Esther managed to get a ‘tió’ (a log that delivers presents) into her in-law’s home this year, but other than that, this year’s Christmas will be fully American. Esther joked about how well adjusted she has become to living in Eastchester, adopting all the American traditions. “Here your Christmas tree has to touch the ceiling! she said. She added that is “essential” for your tree to be natural, because of the smell, and decorated with ornaments.

The most important Christmas tradition for Americans is the Christmas tree. “The temperature could be below zero, but we will spend an hour outdoors in order to find the perfect tree”, explained Dylan. Next year, Dylan will cut down the family Christmas tree as many other American families do. They have not done so yet because Laia, who is almost 2 years old, is still too small. Several tree farms outside of New York offer families the possibility of cutting down their own trees. “If you cut it down yourself, it’s the best”, they said.

“When the neighbours visit they go directly to the tree and ask about each ornament. Where we got them, who made them. It’s one of the most important Christmas activities!” proclaimed Esther. Esther is proud of her many ornaments. Some of them were made by her son, some were gifts from friends, some were made by her husband when he was little or passed down through the family. 

“At my house, the first ornaments to be placed on the tree were always those that my grandfather made. They were always put in a safe place so the dogs and children couldn’t get to them!” Dylan added. “My mother-in-law has Christmas tree lights from her mother that she keeps because they aren’t sold anymore”, explained Esther.

The couple has been spending Christmas in the US for a few years now. They visit Blanes, in the Catalan Costa Brava, for 6 weeks during the summer. So Christmas season for the Jeannotte family is very American. Esther did manage to introduce the ‘caga tió’ tradition (Catalan Christmas log, that “poops” presents out, as said in Catalan) this year, though.

Another American Christmas tradition is the gingerbread house. A gingerbread house is a house made of gingerbread cookies that is decorated with icing, chocolate or candy and eaten during the holiday season. Many families also bake “gingerbread men” and decorate them with icing. At the Jeannotte house, the gingerbread house is placed above the fireplace, “next to the elf, who makes sure the kids behave”, said Esther.

Less about food, more about gifts

The United States does not have a traditional Christmas menu. Each year, Dylan’s mother prepares a ‘Christmas log’, a log-shaped cake eaten in France. But Christmas in the US is less about food and more about gifts. “The important day to eat is Thanksgiving”, said Dylan.

Esther hopes to add Catalan traditional foods to the Jeannotte family Christmas menu in the future, like the ‘sopa de galets’. She misses Catalan nougats and wafers, but especially the feeling of the Catalan dinner table. “We sit around the dinner table but it is not the same”, she said, reminiscing about the 3 to 4 hour get-togethers common to her Catalan family’s dinner table.

Esther did manage to have ‘caga tió’ this year. Now, every year on the 24th of December, the Catalan Christmas log will poop out presents at her in-laws’ house in New York. “They love it!” She assured that her husband’s parents are already accustomed to the tradition and enjoy seeing the kids “hitting the Christmas log”. “When I talk to my friends about how the holidays were, everyone remembers the poop log. It’s a very strange tradition”, added Dylan.

While there are many American customs that Esther enjoys, she thinks that Christmas in the US is “very consumerist” and that everything is done “on a big scale”. Even though the Three Kings won’t be coming to New York this year, Esther was happy to learn about a similar tradition in the US. “If the children behave badly, Santa Claus brings them coal too”, she explained.