Though my family and I now live in Slovenia, we spent three Christmases in Catalunya, and have picked up some peculiar Christmas traditions during our time there. I’m not sure how well-known these are outside of Catalunya, so I thought I’d share them here. If you’re ever in or around Barcelona at Christmas, you might meet one or both of the following characters:
Caga Tió is literally a ‘Pooping Log.’ You could be polite and give him his alternative title of Tió de Nadal (Christmas Log), but a pooping log is what he is, and poop presents is what he does!
The tradition works like this: Tió shows up at your doorstep on 8 December, and you must let him in, cover him with a blanket and keep him warm by the fire (not too close, obviously). Every night until Christmas Eve, you must leave food out for him, and in the morning, the food will be gone. All the while, Tió is getting fatter, in preparation for his festive cagada (big poop) on Christmas Eve.
When the big night arrives, the children of the house gather around Caga Tió and sing variations on the following song:
Avellanes i mató,
Si no cagues bé
Et daré un cop de bastó.
This (roughly) translates as:
Oh Poopy Log
Please poop turron
Almonds and cream cheese
Poop them for me please!
If you don’t poop them good,
I’ll hit you with a stick of wood!
Oh Poopy Log!
The traditional festive Yule Log has here been adapted into something uniquely Catalan, as you can gather from the above. As the children beat him with the stick, he doesn’t poop large presents, but rather small sweets and chocolates that can be shared with all the family. Caga Tió is now an integral part of our family Christmas, and the festive season officially begins with his arrival in our home.
El Caganer, or ‘The Pooper’ is another Catalan festive tradition in which poop plays an important part. I don’t very well understand why poop and Christmas should go together, but I’m not Catalan, so what do I know?
El Caganer is a figure dressed in tradtional Catalan peasant clothes (most characteristically the barretina – a red hat with black band), who can be found in Catalan nativity scenes pooping at the back of the stable. The strictest religious observers may not approve of El Caganer, but to many he is a vital part of the scene, pooping good luck for the year to come!
No one is quite sure how the tradition of El Caganer originated, but the tradition of placing him in the nativity scene began around the 18th Century A.D. The Caganer’s origins could, however, be far more ancient. Consider this archaeological discovery:
An Iberian votive deposit was found near Tornabous in the Urgell depicting a holy Iberian warrior defecating on his falcata [sword]. This led to a brief altercation between the Institut d’Estudis Catalans and the Departament d’Arqueologia in the Conselleria de Cultura of the Generalitat de Catalunya as to whether the find can be regarded as a proto-caganer (which would place the origin of this tradition far earlier than previously thought) or just a representation of a pre-combat ritual. (Source: Wikipedia)
Whatever the truth behind this tradition, I think it’s fair to say that with the shit luck many of us have had this year, we could perhaps all do with a Caganer to poop us better fortunes in 2021! Nowadays the Christmas markets of Barcelona sell Caganers in the form of celebrities and politicians, but we have our own traditional Caganer, who we are hoping will bring us good fortune for the year ahead. May this cagada of good fortune extend to anyone reading this article!