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Mom Talk: Mothering The Spanish Way

Written by Noelia Pahissa

Photography by Photograph Courtesy Of Noelia Pahissa

We’re back with another round of “Mom Talk”, where we invite some incredible mothers, from all walks of life, to share their personal experiences and journeys through motherhood, whether it be struggles, triumphs, or anything in-between—nothing’s off limits when it comes to topics. This week, Noelia Pahissa outlines the traditions and customs she practices with her family in order to keep their Spanish culture alive in the U.S. -JKM

Fourteen years ago, my husband José was offered an engineering position in San Diego, so we left the comfort of our home in Barcelona to settle down in California. For years we traveled around, getting to know our new surroundings and culture. Then, in 2008, our son Quim was born, and our daughter Aitana followed closely behind in 2010. It wasn’t long after that we discovered just how vital our Catalan traditions were to us as parents.

Our kids speak Catalan, Spanish, German, and English—an international mix—and we have created a happy environment for them to flourish and remember their roots through the objects we bring back every summer when we return from visiting family in Barcelona. In addition to these personal treasures, San Diego has a climate very similar to Barcelona’s, so the Mediterranean never feels quite as far away.

Aside from language and environment, traditional foods play a big role in our home. You will often find us “picando” (snacking on) the traditional Catalan staple “pa amb tomàquet.” This is a hard-crust baguette bread with tomato rubbed all along the top of it, then seasoned and drizzled with olive oil. It’s our kids’ favorite snack. I remember once during a playdate I prepared pa amb tomàquet for my son and his friends. A few days later, the boys’ moms called to ask what snack I’d given them—they were amazed! In addition to snack time, pa amb tomàquet with some Manchego cheese or avocado is our go-to solution on those evenings when there’s literally nothing in the fridge, or for late nights as an easy dinner solution.

April is a special month in our family, not only because it marks the start of spring, but also because on April 23 we celebrate the Catalan tradition of Sant Jordi. It is one of the most romantic days of the year in Catalonia. Men give a rose to their loved one, and in return, women give them a book. The streets of Barcelona—especially Las Ramblas—fill with people, book stalls, and stands of roses. It’s a very unique day to be in the city. I still have strong memories of the smell of fragrant roses and books when walking down Las Ramblas. When I was a kid, my dad would give me a rose every year on Sant Jordi, and it was so meaningful to me that I still keep a rose pressed between the pages of a book. Despite the distance and being raised in the United States, I would like my daughter to have as fond of memories as I do with this tradition. Therefore, José has been giving a rose to Aitana every year since she was born, and this year, the rose was a fragrant and special shade of light pink that was picked right from our new garden. I also gave each one of the kids a book: Strong is the New Pretty by Kate T. Parker and Weird But True from National Geographic.

Anytime we’re asked about our Christmas traditions in the United States, I am met with astonished faces when I mention El Tió de Nadal (also famously referred to as Caga Tió, or the pooping log). Once we had kids, we knew we would be carrying out this Catalonian tradition that both José and I grew up with. The Tió de Nadal consists of a log with peg-legs, a hand-drawn smiling face, and a red hat. The children believe he’s spent the entire year in the forest, so around the first week of December, we travel to a little patch of woods near our house to “find” him. With the help of some pretty fine-tuned coordinates, the kids eagerly start looking for the Tió de Nadal with flashlights in hand. Once found and brought back home, we cover him with a blanket and feed him every night until Christmas Eve. The kids know that they need to take good care of the log, so he will poop out special treats and gifts for them. On Christmas Eve, they sit around El Tió and sing a traditional song, while beating him gently with sticks. When the song is over, the kids lift the blanket to see what the log has left for them. You would not believe their looks of amazement! After Christmas, El Tió de Nadal goes back into the forest until the following year.

It’s safe to say that these customs are incredibly special to our family. While instilling Spanish traditions and culture in our kids in the United States can be tough at times, hopefully all of the reminders prove to be something they will continue to enjoy as they get older, and eventually pass down to their own children, too!

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