Caga tió – this Catalan Christmas tradition is the shit!

Christmas time is full of traditions, that are often quiet and festive reflecting strong family values such as harmony and love. The Catalan habit of Caga tió is a tiny bit different. Sure, it brings family together and ends with presents and even more certainly it creates a lot of joy especially for children. As such it is similar to most Christmas traditions I know. Yet at the same time it is also VERY different from all other Christmas habits.

Caga tió literally means “shit log” (excuse my language!) and its name catches the essence of why many foreigners (including me) in the beginning may feel it is nothing in any way related to Christmas. It gets even weirder, when you hear that it involves kids collectively beating a creature to make it shit presents. I mean, where is the pedagogic value in that?

Not to worry though, there are also some lessons to be learned for children. If you do Caga tió correctly it involves many more steps than just beating the shit (literally!) out of a tree log. Here is how it often goes: In early December parents and children set out together to the woods to go and find tió, an almost mystical creature, a living tree log. The kids look behind trees and bushes while constantly calling out for tió. Once they return home (normally empty handed and slighlty disappointed) they find tió standing in front of the door. The poor thing is freezing and hungry, hence it is taken inside and the children cover it with a blanket. Of course, tió cannot shit on an empty stomach. Therefore, every evening the kids feed it with fruits and nuts. In the morning when they come to check, they usually only find the shells of the nuts and the skins of the fruits. This whole process of taking care of the tió is in sharp contrast to what follows on the 25th December.

The children go to a room together and say a poem (or pray, in the more religious families) while the parents and the tió stay in the living room. Then the children join them and sing the song of the tió. There are a myriad of different versions of the Caga tió song, but they are often very simliar and usually include the imperative to shit and pee nice things (eatables of all things!) and the threat of phyiscal violence in case the tió does not obey:

caga tió shit tree log
d’avellana i de pinyó hazelnuts and pine nuts
pixa vi blanc pee white wine
per les festes de nadal for the Christmas celebrations
ara venen festes celebrations are coming now
festes glorioses glorious celebrations
menjarem turrons we will eat nougat (turrons)
neules i capons waffles and poulards
caga tió shit tree log
sinó et donarem un bon cop de bastó if you don’t we will give you a good beating with a stick

While singing, everybody is hitting the tió with sticks (or hangers, tennis rackets, or whatever else is at hand) and at the end of the song the blanket is pulled away and the presents below the tió are revealed. It is worth noting, that of big presents usually do not fit under the tió and its blanket. However, in Catalunya, big presents are normally given on the 6th of January, when the three Wise Men are coming.

TióA very small tió, a great souvenir. Real ones are much bigger of course, the bigger the more presents they can shit! Typical parts of a tió: A long and robust tree log, a smiley face and two long legs in the front. Often tió wears a “barretina”, the typical Catalan hat. 

As mentioned above, it may appear strange to make children first nurture the tió only to later take advantage of it and force it to excrement what they want by hitting it, but, hey, it is not as bad as it sounds. To start with, it may be argued, that Catalans are more scatological than other people. Just look at the Caganer and Pixaner, a shitting and a peeing figure that is a vital part of every Catalan nativity play. Moreover, tió is a very robust being and can take a lot, and I have never seen a destroyed tió and if tió did not like it, would it come back next year? If you think it is too violent a tradition, just imagine tió may have some digestion problems and a little rough petting on the back may help it relieve itself.

In the end, Caga tió brings together the whole family and, as weird as it sounds, it is amazing to see several generations (grandfathers, parents, children) hit the tió together and sharing its excrements. And isn’t that (bringing together family, not the “sharing excrements thing”), what Christmas is all about?

2 Responses to “Caga tió – this Catalan Christmas tradition is the shit!”
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  1. […] Christmas tradition in Catalunya. In fact, a while before tió gets around to delight everyone by pooping presents after receiving a good beating, the caganer (lit. “the pooper”) is already doing his business in nativity scenes […]


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