Pooping log

Christmas is around the corner and with it, it comes a myriad of traditions. Each place has its distinctive customs. Here in Catalunya there is the Tió de Nadal (Christmas Log) or more commonly known as Caga tió (pooping log). As with all traditions, families have adjusted this one and some details of it may vary from household to household.

The Caga tió used to be a regular log but nowadays it is a smallish wooden log with stick legs, has a happy face, wears a red, Catalan ‘barretina’ hat and is covered in a blanket. The log poos lollies and small presents at Christmas though it is not as simple as just that.

From the 8th of December (Día de la Inmaculada Concepcion) the log “appears” in the house doorstep or found in the woods. From that day onwards, children must feed and look after the log until Christmas eve. Sometimes the feeding is recommended to be dry bread, orange peel or dried beans. Others, turrón (nougat). Sometimes parents might replace the small log by increasingly bigger ones as time goes by to make the children think that the log has grown after being fed.

On Christmas Eve, the tradition becomes bizarre and quirky. In order for the Caga Tió to produce its gifts, children are to beat it with another smaller wooden stick and sing to it, ordering it to poop presents. Whilst the words may vary from town to town, the tune stays the same, and translated to English it goes something like:

Poop, log,
poop nougats (turrones),
hazelnuts and cheese of mató,
if you don’t poop well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
poop, log!

The song should end with a final load cry of Poop log! (Caga tió!) to command to the log to poo. The children then reach inside the Caga Tio’s blanket and find whatever the log has defecated. In some households children must go to a room to pray that the log has pooped something.

Traditionally, the Caga Tio produced relatively small gifts that were for all to share, and not individual gifts. The most common droppings offered by the log include turrón (nougat), small sweets, biscuits and dried fruits.

When the log has nothing left to evacuate, it finishes the feat with a salt herring, a head of garlic, an onion, or it ‘urinates’ by leaving a bowl of water. If there is a fireplace, the Caga tió can be burnt afterwards. Though these days many people keep it for next year.

It is said that the origins of this tradition date back to the days when the fireplace was a central and important part of family life. The ashes of the burnt log were kept and spread by crops and near the stable and even on the beds as a rite to promote fertility. Others say that the log symbolized the gifts of warmth and light that were given by the earth in the form of wood.

Whatever the beginnings, in this corner of the world, comes Christmas eve, many children will be wacking a log with a stick to make it poop presents and lollies.

A house or a clinic?

This place, which has been frequently visited by me, is also known as Quinta San Isidro, it is a 1920-21 building by Joaquim Lloret Homs. The opening of the Avenida JV Foix where there used to be an old torrent, has given it a great prominence. Some might not believe that the beautiful residence now houses a medical centre.

Giant swinging chunk of silver

Imagine a cathedral full of people, pilgrims, from all over the world that have spent weeks or months walking. And back in the day, with limited to no access to water for washing up…

To clean the air when these crowds of pilgrims arrived in Santiago de Compostela after their long journey, the Cathedral used a giant censer or thurible, the ‘Botafumeiro’. The 62kg censer swings through the air dispensing clouds of incense. The ‘Botafumeiro’ forms an impressive 65-metre long arched trajectory along the cathedral for around minute and a half, sometimes reaching 68km per hour and suspended at 20 meters above the ground; it is pulled by 8 men (‘tiraboleiros’) using a complex mechanism of ropes and pulleys.

This censer dates back to 1851 and it’s made of silver-plated brass. It is not swung during every mass but rather on Sunday 12:30pm mass, special occasions or if someone pays the 400€ donation.

An enormous swinging lump of silver is not without its disasters. It is said that the first one was when Princess Catherine of Aragon visited in 1499. Whilst being swung, the rope that held the Botafumeiro snapped and the giant piece of metal flew out of the cathedral through a window. Supposedly, no one was injured by the censer.

The second incident is said to have been in July 1937 when the cords holding the Botafumeiro failed and hot coals toppled onto the floor.

The current operation of the ‘Botafumeiro’ is to attach its ropes with sturdy sailor’s knots which means that pilgrims, tourists and church goers can be at ease when watching this amazing spectacle.

Arrive clean!

The river in Lavacolla is the last one before Santiago de Compostela, only 10.3 kilometers away. There are many theories in relation to the origin of this place. One of the stories states that the name Lavacolla comes from the fact that pilgrims in the Middle Ages used this river to wash up and thus arrive clean in Santiago.

Australian invasion

Walking Galicia through the Camino de Santiago gives the opportunity to see endemic vegetation and trees like chestnut and oaks trees. They contrast with the introduced Australian species of the eucaliptus. Much like the heated debate that has been foregoing for years in the Spanish country. Eucaliptus was introduced on the XIX century and since then it has adapted and spread to the Galician soil. The controversy is between the paper industry and the ecologists fighting for better forestal planning as this foreign species threatens to kill this beauty.

Follow the yellow arrow

The most famous of the trails to Santiago de Compostela is the French way which starts in St. Jean de Pied du Port and expands 800kms.

The French way comes in to Melide through the village of Santa María do Leboreiro. In the Calixtinus Code of the XII century, it appears as Campus Leporarius, which means “field of hares”.

Along the way, yellow arrows and scallop shells mark the turns, paths and direction of the Camino. The signs can be seen everywhere: on sidewalks, walls, trees, rocks and tile dotted throughout the routes.

Pilgrim’s insignia

It has been more than a thousand years, that pilgrims have walked the many kilometers and many ways that lead to Santiago de Compostela, seeking penance, forgiveness, solitude, enlightenment, and some, adventure.

The scallop shell has long been the symbol of the Camino de Santiago (St. James’ Way). This shell is commonly found in the shores of Galicia and often pilgrims wear or attach them to backpacks to show that they are walkers on the trail. The origins of this tradition is uncertain. Some say it was given to the early pilgrims to prove they had reached Santiago de Compostela. Others say that additionally it was given to pilgrims for their walk back home to be used as a drinking device in lakes, rivers, waterfalls.

Whatever its beginings, all pilgrims use it nowadays and are easily identifiable than the hundreds of tourists in this area of the world.

Urban legends

Wandering and walking Barcelona never seizes to surprise me. This Catalan city is full of history, old buildings and leyends, like the Modernista Torre de les Aigües building designed by architect Josep Domènech i Estapà in 1907. The octagonal 45m shaped tower has a brick roof, ornamented with Trencadís made of tile fragments. It was built to allow the pressure of the water to increase.

Being an architect Josep Domènech i Estapà didnt know how to carry a pumping installation so he contracted his friend to do the designs who in turn had no time and delegated to a student. The engineering student took this project for two years.

It is said that due to delays, equipment that was ordered and used from England was not able to be tested in time for the inauguration of the tower. When trying to set up the pumping station, it failed. The newly graduated engineer could not handle the supposed humiliation and died of suicide throwing himself from his first and only work: the tower of the Waters. It was discovered, days later, that the design was perfect and the fault was in a valve as being from England, the opening direction was in reverse than the ones from Europe. It is also said that when the area is in absolute silence you can hear the work of an engineer banging his hammer and scrambling with his toolbox inside the Tower. Another urban legend says that the British who visit this site can never see their real colours.

Really a Castell?

Sitting on top of Monjuïc, in an ideal place for a defense vantage point, sits the Castell de Montjuïc. With wonderful 360º views of the city below, this place was built in 1640 during the Reapers’ War. Since then it has served as a fortress, military prison, weapons museum and now used for cultural activities and displays.

The castle can be reached by a funicular and cable lift, which offers a magnificent view of Barcelona.

A notable death was the execution by firing squad of the president of the Catalan government, Lluís Companys, executed on the 15th October 1940 at the castle after being deported by Nazi Germany and handed over to Franco’s troops.

The only real question is, has it ever been used as a castle as its name suggests?

Twice a month

Right in the city center, in the midst of Ciutat Vella, lies a plaza that can be traced to the X century. Once a cementery of the Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi, the plaza nowadays hosts (and from 15 years ago) a little market for artists, craftspeople and artisans on the first and third weekend of every month. All products are handmade and range from cheese and honey to sausages, wine and biscuits. Next to the plaza, a painters display is set.

The Plaza del Pi gets its name from its literal meaning, Plaza del Pino. The story says that a pine tree was planted in 1568 and lasted until the war. Since then, a new pine is planted when the current one gets sick or dies. The one currently standing in the plaza was planted in 1985.