Christmas comes this time each year. No prizes to the Beach Boys for that lyrical insight. But what Brian and co might not tell you is that Catalunya, the autonomous province to the North East of Spain that has Barcelona as its capital, Christmas is different.
Who brings presents for Catalan children?
Not Father Christmas, that’s for sure. Children across Catalunya wait for the Tio de Nadal to bring them their goodies.
The Tio (English translation: ‘log’ or ‘trunk’) is, as you may have guessed, a log with a little face painted on one end and two little twiggy legs poked in to the front. Starting on the 8th December (The Feast of the Immaculate Conception), the tio is brought into the house and given a warm welcome. Typically, he is given a little bit to ‘eat’ every night and tucked up under a blanket to keep out the December cold.
This continues until Christmas Eve. Traditionally at this point, the Tio would be put in the edge of the fire and ordered to poo. No, that’s not a typo. Since many modern homes have central heating rather than open fires (and also, kids + fire + Christmas = bad idea), a different technique has been adopted more recently: beating the poor tio with sticks while singing songs along the lines of ‘Poo, you damned thing’. This is the origin of the Tio’s other name: ‘Caga Tio’ or ‘Sh*t log’.
When the beating or burning has stopped, as if by magic, the children lift up the Tio’s blanket to find a haul of little Christmas presents including sweets, turron and nuts or figs (larger presents are, mercifully for the poor Tio, brought by the three kings at a later date). To signal that he has no more to give, the Tio then helpfully poos either a herring, a piece of garlic or an onion, or simply and succinctly urinates into a little bowl that has been left out for just that purpose.
What is a caganer?
The caganer is a small statuette that traditionally shows a man in Catalan costume having a poo, and a symbol of good luck. The tradition dates back to the 17th or 18th century, although modern versions include figures of popular (or unpopular) athletes, politicians, celebrities – you name it. The figure is placed in the Nativity crib alongside Jesus and Mary and the rest of the gang.
Where can I catch some of the Christmas spirit in Barcelona?
The markets that spring up for the Fira Santa Llucia are a good bet, and are open just in front of the old cathedral. Meanwhile, there are also Christmas markets in front of the Sagrada Familia and on the Gran Via (Fira de Reyes). All sell festive knick-knacks and the above mentioned Tio and Caganer. There is also usually a giant Tio in the old cathedral square – Catalunya’s answer to going to see Father Christmas in the shopping centre – with a large queue of children armed with sticks, just waiting to beat the presents out of him.
Photo by K K Fung / Flickr