Imagine returning home from work one day to find a small log on your coffee table. You assume that one of your kids/grandkids/irresponsible adult friends has left it there by mistake and prepare to throw it in the garbage. As you grasp it, however, you notice that it has a painted face, complete with two googley eyes, a nose, and a big smiling mouth. The weirdness does not end there, though, as you soon discover that your log is propped up on two little stick legs and is wearing a small red hat that reminds you of a beret.
Let me introduce you to “Tió de Nadal” which means “Christmas Log” in Catalan. The log is also called “Tronca” but is most commonly referred to as “Caga Tió.” “Caga Tió” would be translated, most accurately, as the “shit log.”
Caga Tió is first seen in Catalan households around December 8th which is the date of the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Barcelona families can pick up their logs at the huge Christmas market (Feria de Santa Lucia) in front of the Cathedral in the Barri Gothic (Gothic neighbourhood)… or at other Christmas markets around the city. What DP and I were most impressed by was the variety of sizes that Caga Tió can take. There are some teensey-tiny logs, small enough to fit in your hand, while the largest ones we saw were about a foot long and 8 inches in diameter. Some of the larger ones have brightly coloured plaid blankets draped over their little wooden behinds.
So you take Tió home and set him up in the dining room where you must, of course, feed him at least once a day; we are told that Caga Tió is wild about oranges, crackers and sweet wine. As the family feeds Tió (this is a bit confusing for us as Tio is also the Spanish word for uncle), he may grow in size… which is to say that the parents replace the small log with a larger log. It is important to know that you should also keep Caga Tió covered up with his blanket at night so he won’t get too cold. At some point, before Christmas, Caga Tió is moved into the living room, taking his blanket with him.
According to Catalan tradition, on Christmas Eve the children of the household are instructed to go to their rooms to say three “Our Fathers” while the parents fill the hollowed out end of the log (the end hidden by the blanket) with small gifts and candies. The big gifts are brought by the Three Wise Men (also known as the Magic Kings) on January 6th but Caga Tió brings candies, nuts and dried figs to be shared by everyone.
After saying their prayers, the children return to the living room to see what Caga Tió has brought for them.
So far, this is a very nice Christmas story.
Then the children take out their sticks and start whacking the crap out of poor Caga Tió… and, while they hit him, they sing this little song:
avellanes i mató,
si no cagues bé
et daré un cop de bastó.
English translation of the song: “Shit Log”
hazelnuts and cheese,
if you don’t shit well
I’ll give you a blow with a stick.
After the kids have had their fill beating Caga Tió, someone removes the blanket and everyone examines Caga Tió’s poops. Miraculously, Caga Tió has produced small wrapped gifts and candy for everyone. When nothing is left to shit, Caga Tió produces some unusual items such as an egg, salt herring, a head of garlic, or an onion. As I understand it, the appearance of these items signals that there is no more good stuff left in Caga Tió.
The weirdest part of this Christmas story is that I want a little Caga Tió of our very own. It is not every day a person gets to sing a song beginning with the lyrics “shit, log!”
Sieze the day, I say.