EL TIÓ DE NADAL: THE BELOVED CATALAN CHARACTER THAT TAKES A BEATING EVERY CHRISTMAS
Christmas time is here, which means, for people living in Barcelona, it’s time to bring out the Catalan Christmas traditions. If you happen to visit the Mercat de Santa Llúcia, Barcelona’s Christmas market located on the plaza in front of the Cathedral, you will notice many curious decorations on sale. One of the most prominent is the Tió de Nadal, that cute log wearing a red hat and covered with a red blanket.
The Tió de Nadal (“Christmas Log”), also known as the Caga Tió (“Crapping Log”), makes its way into Catalan households on December 8th, nestling in under the Christmas tree or snuggling up near the fireplace. It’s one of Catalan’s favorite Christmas characters, and the tradition attached to it is comical, but more on that in a moment. The origin story of this lovable piece of wood is an interesting one, so let’s delve in.
Back before the days of central heating and well-insulated walls, people had to find ways to make their homes comfortable and cozy in winter.
In Catalonia, people thought it was necessary to take care of nature to help it survive the dark, cold winter months and ensure its fertility. It was believed that, if left to its own devices, nature would fall asleep and die, and that was that. What a waste! If it was allowed to die, the fruits it could bear would never be enjoyed. Therefore, logs were cut and brought into homes. The idea was, “If we take care of nature during the winter, it will take care of us in the spring.”
Once lit afire in fireplaces, the logs brought light and heat into the homes. In order to “feed” the log, it was struck with a cane to keep it burning. It is here that we have the beginnings of the Caga Tió tradition.
But how did it become the dressed up trunk we see today?
It is said that, long ago, in Sant Quintí de Mediona, while some children were warming themselves by the fireplace inside of their farmhouse, a voice was heard coming from the chimney, “Hey, I’m coming down! I’m coming down!” Startled, the children beckoned the voice to come down at once. Suddenly, a log fell down. Unsure whether the voice had come from the log, the children set it aside and waited to see if the speaker would finally emerge. Yet again, another log fell. It was also set aside. This happened a total of five times. Once the five logs were set aside, they suddenly converted into a large trunk in the form of an elderly man. To show its appreciation, it told them where a treasure was located and that this treasure should be given to a beggar that would come the next morning. Who could ignore a talking trunk? Obliging the tió, they gave the treasure to the beggar. Upon doing so, the story goes that fortune shone on them and the farmhouse forever.
In allusion to the old-man-shaped trunk from the tale, the log was made into a beloved Christmas character. He was dressed with a barretina cap, eyes, nose, smile, two stick legs, and a nice, warm blanket draped over his body. He would enter houses as a guest on December 8th, the Day of the Immaculate Conception, and children were expected to feed him — leftover food from meals — every day until Christmas Eve. After weeks of enjoying hospitable care, the Tió would crap out delicious Christmastime goodies for the children to eat. Then, on Christmas Day, he would be thrown onto the fire to burn and his ashes would be scattered on the field outside, giving fertility back to nature; this particular part of the tradition has been lost along the way.
Over time, a song was written to add even more color to the tradition. There are variations on the lyrics, but the idea is the same: get the log to crap out small presents!
It goes like this:
Catalan – English
Caga tió – Crap, trunk,
ametlles i torró. – almonds and nougat.
No caguis arengades, – Don’t crap herrings,
que són salades. – they’re salty.
Caga torrons, – Crap nougats,
que són més bons. – they’re much better.
Caga tió, – Crap, trunk,
ametlles i torró. – almonds and nougat.
Si no vols cagar, – If you don’t want to crap,
et donaré un cop de bastón. – I’ll hit you with a stick.
Caga tió! – Crap, trunk!
While singing this song, the children whack the Tió with a stick. Once the song is sung, and the Tió sufficiently whacked, some adults distract the children momentarily while others stuff treats under the Tió’s blanket. With the children all riled up and craving sweets, the adults allow them back into the room for them to discover the goods the Tió has crapped out. Everyone is happy, even the abused log. There’s no wiping that smile off his face!
So there you have it! You’re armed and ready to adopt this quirky tradition as part of your own Christmas celebration! Happy Holidays, everyone!
By EMILY BENSON
Photos by ISABEL TROYA
Information used from:
*If you’d like to follow our blog but don’t have a WordPress account, you can sign up for email notifications on the sidebar of this page! Otherwise, follow us on Instagram to keep up to date on our activity!