“Eat Well, Poop a Lot, and Don’t be Afraid of Death” – Traditional Catalan Saying
On the night of the feast of the Immaculate Conception, happy little logs appear in Catalan fireplaces. Look how adorable this guy on the left is. His name is Tió de Nadal or more recently, Caga Tió. Nothing nice is going to happen to him.
It starts innocently enough. The little log is cold, so he gets a traditional Catalan Barretina hat and a blanket. He’s hungry, so every night his family feeds him turrón, a nut and nougat confection. Sounds great, but this little Christmas visitor is more foie gras goose than guest. You see, he can’t poop and that’s all he really wants to do… Caga Tió means Poop Log.
By Christmas morning, he’s in a bad way. But he still can’t go. So kids beat him with sticks, which if you’re a log, is the equivalent of being beaten with the amputated limbs of your kin. Still not medieval enough? Good, because there’s a beating song.
Log of Christmas, shit nougats and pee white wine.
Don’t shit herrings, they are too salty.
They are much better.
It sounds better in Catalan.
Eventually the kids have to quit beating the log and leave the room so the adults can pray (VERY SNEAKY, GROWN-UPS). While the kids are gone, the log takes the dump of his life in the form of little presents and candy. He might even repeat the process a few times. When there’s no more candy, he drops an onion, garlic, or the dreaded herring. Then if you have a fireplace you can burn the poor Poop Log alive. Just imagine that sweet little face engulfed in flames.
But maybe you want a poop-based Catalan Christmas tradition that doesn't involve torturing a log. No problem.
Enter the Caganer. He’s a figure from the manger scene in Catalonia and occasionally Southern Italy as well. He's popping a squat with his pants around his ankles and swirly brown pile behind him. But before you get too upset about a guy pooping in front of Baby Jesus, you should know that Catalan (and Italian) crèches are elaborate. The manger scene isn’t just the stable with Mary, Joseph, and a few stray animals. It’s all of Bethlehem; a veritable cast of thousands and the Caganer is usually far away from the holy action in the manger.
In Barcelona, aka Caganer-central, the city omitted the pooper from the official crèche in 2005. Apparently the Caganer was setting a bad example by flouting a law against public defecation. Seeing as how Barcelona is where a lot of tourists go to get turnt up, I can see their point. But it didn’t go over well with locals. After loud complaints, the Caganer was restored in 2006.
I wish I could tell you what all of this poop has to do with Christmas. But… you’re shit out of luck. (Sorry.) The usual guess is that winter is a time of fertilization before planting in the spring, so much like reaping crops (and lives) is tied to fall, poop and enriching the earth is tied to winter.
May you all get nougat and nuts and not herring and onions.