Updated: Dec 19, 2020
It’s the countdown to Christmas, and Catalan households are not that different from other households where Christmas is celebrated: decorating our houses, buying gifts, grocery shopping as if there was no tomorrow… We do have a couple of things that differentiate us from the rest, though. One is our Christmas log, Tió*, which, depending on the family, is either found in the forest, bought at the Santa Llúcia Christmas Fair or it simply arrives at home in its yearly visit. In any case, Tió is probably the Christmas character that Catalan children love the most. We love it and we feed it and we beat it (and beat it). Until it poops gifts for the whole family. Yes, that’s right.
We have a Christmas log with a smiley face and its Catalan little red hat, the barretina; we cover it with a cute little blanket to make him feel cozy and loved. We feed it every night before going to bed. Every night until Christmas Eve. Then, on Christmas Day, KABOOM! We get a stick and beat it rhythmically as we sing the log-pooping song that will help Tió poop us some presents. Even in California we have our own Tió every year. He’s been with us for over a decade and despite the fact that it's aging, we still beat it hoping it’ll poop us that book we asked for, one or two chocolate bars, that Playmobil or Lego set your kids have had their eyes on for months, maybe a scarf or some gloves… It’s usually small things, but then, our Tió is rather small in size.
Traditionally, logs would bring comfort in households and keep everyone warm. That comfort and warmth evolved and went from just that to Tió pooping traditional Christmas sweets and into more material things such the latest iPhone your teen kid (or yourself?) can't possibly live without. And does it have to be so violent? You could ask. Why the need to hit Tió with a stick? Why not ask Tió nicely and let the presents simply appear under his blanket on Christmas Day? It beats me!
Then, besides Tió there’s Caganer, the pooping boy. Yep, another one who poops! But this young boy is pooping the traditional way. No need to add more details there as you’re all familiar with the job.
The story goes that on his way to see Baby Jesus, little Joanet/Manelic (the name varies) needs to do his business. It’s a long journey on foot and he just can’t hold it any more. So, he hides behind some bushes and relieves himself. And that is precisely what you’ll find in all Catalan nativity scenes: the little figurine of a boy, pants down and squatting hiding behind some bushes on his way to Bethlehem.
We Catalans must have some scatological issues, for there’s yet another one, not a Christmas story, though; another literary character whose story is linked to the act of well, pooping. However, I’m going to save it for another occasion, when there’s gloom in our lives and we need some cheering up.
*It is worth noting, for those who’ve got some knowledge of Spanish, that our Tió is not tío. Ah, the joys of spelling! That little diacritical mark, that seemingly insignificant line above certain vowels does make a difference. You see, we do not beat tío. No, we leave our uncles in peace, in Catalonia. We just beat Tió.
The number of books on both, Tió and Caganer is pretty vast. Catalan publishing houses bring us these two characters every year in December in all sorts of formats, and we all enjoy them!