In some ways, it’s a pity I won’t be in Barcelona on Jan.
Jan. 6 is “Los Reyes,” the day that Catalonians celebrate the wise
men visiting Jesus. Traditionally, it was more of a gift-giving day
than Christmas, although the commercialization of Christmas is
certainly reversing this.
There are a number of interesting local traditions that take place
on Jan. 6. One of which is the “Caga Tió,” which is a log with a
painted face and a traditional Catalan hat. For about a month
leading up to Jan. 6, the children of a Catalan household will
leave out food for their Tiós to eat. Then, the children will beat
the log with sticks and chant a song that roughly translates to,
“Poop, Tió, poop. If you don’t poop well, I’ll hit you with a
stick!” After the children leave for a moment and return to the
Tió, the parents remove a blanket that has been covering the log to
reveal — presents for the children!
This tradition — feeding a log in the hope that it will poop
presents for you — certainly sounds strange to an American ear. But
then again, I’m sure that leaving out milk and cookies in the hopes
that a large, fat man in a red suit will come down your chimney to
give you presents sounds strange to anyone unfamiliar with
Another Catalan tradition is the “Caganer,” a figure that is sure
to grace any true Catalan nativity scene. A Caganer is a figure
squatting, pants down, in the act of pooping. Supposedly the manure
is supposed to indicate good luck and prosperity, although I’m
still unsure how public defecation constitutes “luck.”
Why Catalonians seem to be preoccupied with pooping figures, I have
no idea, but these are just a sample of the interesting quirks and
traditions that I have heard of, and often had the opportunity to
partake in, during my time here in Spain. Since my arrival in
September, I have gained a much better understanding of Catalan,
Spanish, and European ways of thinking.
Europe is certainly an amazing place. It has great history,
architecture, art, music, food, and traditions. Living in Europe
has provided me with an opportunity to steep in this culture. My
Spanish has improved significantly. I have met many interesting
people. And I have traveled to many great places.
I expected these things to be great. And they were.
However, one thing I didn’t expect to gain from this experience was
a better appreciation for my home country. I left the U.S. wanting
to live as a European for a semester, and, as I return to the U.S.,
I’m realizing my identity more fully as an American.
America has a reputation for being “the land of opportunity,” and
that reputation still holds true. Our country is a huge economic
powerhouse and a magnet for job-seekers and entrepreneurs. Laws in
the U.S. are relatively business-friendly. It’s quite easy to start
In contrast, the job market in Spain is struggling. Reeling from
its own housing crisis, Spain’s unemployment is about 20 percent
nationwide, and nearly 50 percent for the youngest age bracket of
the workforce. Entrepreneurship and job opportunity are choked by
red tape, layers of bureaucracy, and unsustainable welfare and
Social Security programs.
In the Spanish public university where I am studying, students in
the International Economics program can choose to take their
classes in Spanish/Catalan, or in English. Many of the students
that are taking their classes in English are hoping to leave Spain
to work in either the UK, Australia, or the United States. One of
my friend’s self-professed plans is to marry an American to come to
the U.S., since she feels like there are few opportunities in
Another reason I appreciate America is our culture. What is October
without Halloween? What is November without Thanksgiving? You
really realize how wonderful these traditions are when you are
apart from them.
My experience in Spain has been fantastic. I wouldn’t have had it
any other way. And yet, I had a huge smile on my face walking off
the jetway into Sky Harbor Airport.
It would have been amusing to watch Spanish kids whack a log at
full force, hoping that it will poop out presents. But I’d rather
be home for Christmas, in my home country, drinking hot chocolate
next to our Christmas tree.
God bless the USA.
• Scott Norgaard is a junior at Rice University in Houston,
Texas, pursing a degree in mathematical economic analysis. He is an
alumni of Desert Vista High School in Ahwatukee. This column is
part of a series chronicling his adventures studying abroad in