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