Let’s see…I guess it IS pretty weird that here in the USA parents tell little kids that a big rotund guy with long snow white hair and a huge snow white beard, in a red velvet suit, will be dropping down the chimney on Christmas Eve…
… and crawling out through the fireplace, to leave them a bunch of small gifts and candy in a sock pinned on the fireplace mantel, and big gifts under a tree. He’ll then eat the cookies on the plate you left out for him…
…and after that somehow crawl back up that chimney, to his sleigh on the roof pulled by nine reindeer. Eight regular ones and one with a glowing nose. (But no, they don’t have wings like a Pegasus—I guess their flight method is sorta like Superman’s.) And off they will go, into the night to finish their rounds to leave gifts for every good boy and girl on earth.
This is an especially weird premise nowadays, when most homes have natural gas or electric central heating, and relatively few actually HAVE either a big chimney that could hold a big rotund guy, or a fireplace. These days if you want to keep up the “tradition” of the sock hanging, you have to put up one of these…
I have no clue what most American parents tell their gullible kids these days about how Santa allegedly gets in to do his job. I would think even a three year old would understand that the cardboard fireplace doesn’t “go” anywhere. Maybe they tell the kiddies that they will leave a spare key to the front door for Santa under the welcome mat??
Yes, this folklore around the Santa character is…and always has been…pretty weird. Even back in the 1800s when most families had chimneys and fireplaces. For pity’s sake…haven’t folks ever seen a picture of a “chimney sweep” after he had crawled down a chimney?
That snow white hair and beard and gorgeous red velvet suit would all be coal black from the chimney soot after the old guy’s visit to his first house of the night!
Yes. The whole Santa shtick is pretty weird.
But no, that’s not what this blog entry is about. This is weirder. If you can imagine that.
This is about another beloved gift-giving character. His name is Caga Tio. And here he is.
Caga Tio (pronounced “ca-ca tee-yo” in Spanish) is part of the annual Christmas festivities in the Catalonia area of Spain, around Barcelona. The part of Spain that has brought the world that OTHER weird Christmas tradition… putting a figurine of a person pooping somewhere in their Nativity Scenes. The caganer. (A Spanish word that means, essentially, “Pooper.”)
The Catalonians are so “open” about—and proud of—their caganer custom that they recently installed what I can only assume is the largest caganer in the world—about two stories tall—in the large shopping mall in Barcelona for the Christmas season! The original caption on this picture noted that the pile o’ poo supposedly made by the big dude is taller than a third grader…an eight year old child.
(For more details on the caganer, see my earlier StarrTrekking blog entry The Creepiest Christmas Custom of All.)
But back to Caga Tio.
As you see, Caga Tio is an anthropomorphized (“given human features”) log. (The word “tio” in Spanish usually means “uncle,” or sometimes “fellow” or “dude” or whatever. But for some reason it seems to mean “log” in this phrase.) He usually wears the same slouchy red “Catalonian peasant cap” as the traditional caganer. Some families make their own Caga Tio by nailing a couple of short legs, made of small branches, to a hefty log two or three feet long.
Facial features can be painted on or cut from wood and glued on.
Some families even take more creative license.
But I’m guessing most families these days just buy pre-fab Cago Tios from the many shops that sell them.
So if it’s a log, what kind of a log? You might guess the meaning by looking back at the caganer. Oh. See. The “caga” is in both of the situations.
Yes, the central character in this Catalonian “tradition” is Mr. “Poop Log.” His more formal title is “Tio de Nadal”…Christmas Log. But just about everybody actually refers to him as Poop Log.
Poop Log…er, Caga Tio…shows up in homes on December 8 (which, strangely, is the “Feast of the Immaculate Conception” on Roman Catholic calendars…the date that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was allegedly “conceived.”) Although I guess sometimes he shows up in homes as a full-size log, in many homes he evidently shows up first as a li’l bitty baby log. A blanket is always draped over him to keep him warm.
This little guy is cared for by Catalan children in their homes. Each home has a Caga Tio. They keep him warm, feed him and love him. He can’t talk but he can see you and hear you. If you are behaving badly he takes note. He also notices when you are behaving well! Every morning Catalan children are excited to see that Caga Tio has eaten his food. They know for certain, just as I knew with Santa, that these things are accomplished through belief and MAGIC! [Source]
Yes, just like “cookies for Santa.,” food is left out overnight so that Caga Tio can consume it at his convenience. And leave an empty plate to show that he ate his fill.
But ol’ Santa just gets goodies on Christmas Eve. Caga Tio gets to pig out every night for over two weeks. And during the day, just like Santa does in the weeks leading up to Christmas, Caga Tio spies on you to see if you are being naughty or nice.
If the home’s Caga Tio started out small, every few days some sneaky parents “swap out” the small log for bigger and bigger ones to provide the illusion he is “growing” because he’s getting fed so well. I’m guessing that accounts in part for the collection of assorted sizes of Caga Tios on sale at the shops.
At first I thought that you just bought the size you wanted, the tinier ones being for people with very small children or small apartments or not much money to spend. But once I figured out how the scam on the kids works, I’m pretty sure it’s also for people who want to buy two or more sizes with the exact same features to create the “growing” illusion. (AMAZING…feeding him makes his hat grow too!)
How young the kids have to be, to still be gullible enough to believe any of this is “real,” I don’t know. I remember figuring out I’d been scammed about Santa when I was about seven, in second grade. I stumbled on some “Christmas candy” one day that had been hidden by my parents in the cupboard, and it showed up a few days later in my Christmas stocking. For quite a while I assumed that most kids knew the secret by about that age. I may have been in error. I do know I was shocked when I was a fourth grade teacher back in the 1960s to find out that at least one of the nine year old kids in my class still believed that Santa Claus was real. So I guess maybe Catalan kids might buy into the illusion for an extended period.
Mothers warn the kiddies not to leave out junk food for Caga Tio. Because if you do, you will be disappointed in what he … ahem… produces. He needs nutritious food to produce the best reward.
On Christmas day or, depending on the particular household, on Christmas Eve, one puts the tió partly into the fireplace and orders it to defecate; the fire part of this tradition is no longer as widespread as it once was, since many modern homes do not have a fireplace. [See…just like the Santa tradition, a fireplace is involved!]
To make it defecate one beats the tió with sticks, while singing various songs of Tió de Nadal.
The tradition says that before beating the tió all the kids have to leave the room and go to another place of the house to pray, asking for the tió to deliver a lot of presents. This makes the perfect excuse for the relatives to do the trick and put the presents under the blanket while the kids are praying.
The tió does not drop larger objects, as those are considered to be brought by the Three Wise Men. It does leave candies, nuts and torrons [a nougat-type treat]. Depending on the part of Catalonia, it may also give out dried figs. When nothing is left to “shit”, it drops a salt herring, a head of garlic, an onion or “urinates”. What comes out of the tió is a communal rather than individual gift, shared by everyone present.
…[The] nickname Caga tió … derives from the many songs of Tió de Nadal that begin with this phrase, which was originally (in the context of the songs) an imperative [command] (“shit log!”). The use of this expression as a name is not believed to be part of the ancient tradition.
Caga tió song:
“Caga tió, caga torró,
avellanes i mató,
si no cagues
bé et daré un cop de bastó. caga tió!”
[This translates into English roughly as…]
“Shit log, shit nougats (turrón),
hazelnuts and cottage cheese,
if you don’t shit well,
I’ll hit you with a stick, shit log!”
After hitting it softly with a stick during the song, it is hit harder on the words Caga tió!. Then somebody puts their hand under the blanket and takes a gift. The gift is opened and then the song begins again. [Wiki article: Tio de Nadal]
Turron is a traditional nougat-like confection served at Christmas time, made of honey, sugar, and egg white, with toasted almonds or other nuts.
See… the Caga Tio tradition is sort of like a Piñata Party, with an object beaten with sticks to release treats.
Only with a bizarre twist. As if it were a practical joke invented by a bunch of nine year old boys who hadn’t outgrown their Bathroom Humor Stage.
They start ‘em young in Catalonia with this custom. Check out the cardboard tubes offered to these toddlers to use for the beating.
And it is popular not just in homes, but in schools and daycare centers.
And even at public festivals.
And there’s one more way Caga Tio is a lot like Santa Claus. Check out this description by an American visitor to the Barcelona area.
Oh… and you know when you went to the mall as a kid at Christmas time that you got to go to Santa’s workshop and stand in line and then sit on his lap! You could get your pictures taken as you whispered in the ear of Saint Nick all of your heart’s desires! He would of course listen, and if you promised him to behave well, he would bring you a gift from your list!
Well…. While at the mall the other day, my eye caught hold of his little area….. This is Caga tio!
Notice the backdrop and the cameras. Yes– YOU CAN SIT ON CAGA TIO! You can whisper in his ear your heart’s desires, and if you are a good boy or girl, he will poop them for you! (only after you beat him with a stick—naturally!). [Source]
Before you leave, be sure to play the little video below, that will allow you to see Caga Tio in action!