All about the Caga Tio tradition in Barcelona (Spain)

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Cagatió in Spain

Catalonia Caga Tio tradition explained

ALL ABOUT THE SPANISH POOPING LOG

Around the world, Santa Claus is famous to bring presents to children for Christmas. But… Spain is different. For most Spanish families, it’s instead the Three Wise Men that bring presents on January 6th. In the Basque country, it’s the Olentzero (a mytical coal vendor) and his frriend Mari Domingi who bring gifts on Christmas eve. But what about Barcelona and Catalonia? Well… while the Wise Men do also come on January 6th, for Christmas the Tio de Nadal log poops presents after being fed and hit with sticks.

“Tió de Nadal” means “Christmas Log”, and often Catalan people refer to it simply as “El Tió” – The Log (not to be confused with the Spanish word “tio”, uncle in Spanish – nothing to do with it). The action of hitting the log to make it poop presents is called “Fer cagar el Tió” (make the log poop). However, since the song that accompanies the log hitting starts with “Caga Tió” (Poop, log!), you may hear Catalan people refering to the log as the “Caga Tió” or “Cagatió”, and to the action as “Fer el Cagatió”. A grammatically incorrect expression, but a very spread one. In English you’ll often see this Catalan tradition translated as “pooping log” or “poop log” – because it’s translated from the song lyrics rather than the actual name of the log. 

1

How does the poop log look like?

Catlan pooping log Christmas tradition

The Tio de Nadal is a piece of wood from a tree trunk, traditionally a cork tree, but it could also be pine tree or any tree that grows in the Mediterranean area. Ideally it needs to be around 30-40cm / 12-15 inches long. Anything smaller works well as Christmas decoration, to display over a window sill, a mantelshelf, a credenza or on a shop window, but it can be too small to poop presents from it. The log is often supported by two wooden front legs, while its bottom rests on the floor.

In the old times an old log was all you needed, but modernly the pooping logs come with one of their sides painted with a happy face that make them easier to be recognized as a Christmas pooping log. They may even sport a small piece of wood as their nose – just like the carrot on the snowman. They now also often wear a “barretina” hat – a traditional Catalan red bonnet with a black rim. Sometimes they also smoke a pipe (specially those for decoration, rather than the actual pooping presents purpose).

The Catalan poop log needs to be covered with a wool blanket. At home any blanket that is big enough to cover the Cagatio and the presents will do. But if you want it to have a more traditional look, go for a tartan blanket with Christmassy colors such as reds, whites, blacks and greens.

2

How does the Spanish poop log Christmas tradition work?

First of all you need to get a poop log and the required accessories (blanket and the sticks you'll use to hit it). While all this can be purchased in Christmas markets, Barcelona supermarkets or online, in Catalonia it's becoming a trend to "go find your Cagatio" outdoors. Families will organize a trip to some nearby forest where the log has been previously hidden. Primary schools and kindergartens will take the kids to a nearby park to search for it. 

Once back home, you can place the pooping log next to the Christmas tree, or somewhere in the living room. Now in order to make your Caga Tio log poop many presents, first of all you need to feed it well. To be faithful to the Catalan tradition, you’ll start feeding it on December 8, the day of the Immaculate Conception. But in modern days families start feeding it whenever it’s most convenient for their family dynamics. Catalonia pooping logs eat anything: potato peels, vegetable scraps, cookies, nuts, tangerines… Make sure to leave its food on a small dish or saucer next to the Caga Tio overnight. The next day, the food will be gone – which is a good sign: the more the pooping log eats, the more it’ll poop.

Typically on Christmas Day (or Christmas Eve, depending on the family), the log will start feeling cold: that’s the moment to cover it with a blanket, leaving only its head and legs visible. The idea is that the pooping log needs to be comfortable to poop – because it’s not pleasant to poop being cold! And while the kids are distracted, hide some presents underneath (but ssssssh!, that’s a secret between you and me). 

Now starts the fun! The kids are given sticks, and they tap the log with the end of the stick while singing a song that basically asks it to poop presents and sweets, sometimes under the threat of some kind of punishment if it doesn’t poop. Don’t let the kids go too wild hitting the log: remember there’s presents underneath that could break it they get too caught up in the hitting mayhem. 

After the song is over, the blanket is lifted to reveal the presents that have been pooped by the Caga Tio. It’s not unusual to go for several rounds of signing/tapping/getting presents, as probably not all the presents will fit under the blanket at once. Between rounds you’ll need to get the kids out of the room with some excuse. I like saying it needs privacy to poop more. My husband’s family takes the kids to a different room and make them approach the stick to a heater or stove, because apparently a “warmed up” stick works better. Whatever… 

The pooping ends when you lift the blanket and nothing is there anymore: the pooping log has pooped everything there was to poop. I’ve heard that at some households the last thing it poops it’s a can of sardines, herring or kipper (see the lyrics below asking it not to poop them!). At my in-laws the last thing it poops is some toilet paper (blame my MIL sense of humor!). So feel free to create your own family tradition! In the old times, after the pooping was over the log went into the fireplace and was burnt. But nowadays, if you’ve bought it in a store, they aren’t cheap: you’d rather hide it inside a cupboard until next year!

What kind of gifts can poop a Caga Tio?

The Spain Pooping Log poops small presents that fit under a blanket. A bicycle, for instance, does not belong to Caga Tio – that’s more a Three Wise Men present. But a puzzle, crafts supplies, clothes, books, anything that goes in a small box works nicely to be pooped by the Cagatio.

And what about sweets and treats? That is also a great thing to put under the blanket! Chocolates, candy, sugar confectionery… Whatever the kids will like. And while the Caga Tio song asks specifically for turron, mató cheese or hazelnuts, I must say nowadays people rarely puts them under the blanket. The lyrics were composed in a time when presents weren’t very common among the working and middle classes and most people only got dessert on special occasions. Actually, turron is THE Christmas sweet in Spain. And along with cottage cheese and nuts they would have been a huge treat in those times, but now that you can get them easily in the stores, presents and candy have replaced them under the blanket.

3

Some caga tio song lyrics for you

Every family has their own version of Caga Tio song, or even use different ones in every round. Some times a verse or two might change from one family to the other. There’s no right or wrong version. So I’m giving you some and their translations below, just to give you an idea of how they sound. However, the tune is pretty much the same always, rhythmic and simple. So simple and silly that I’m amazed someone like Nora Jones decided to record it! And really, the fart sounds are NOT a thing in the Catalan Cagatio, that’s too much, LOL! 

My favorite lyrics

Caga Tió,
Mel i Mató.
Si no cagues bé,
Et cremaré!

Poop, log! 
Honey and cottage cheese.
If you don’t poop well enough,
I will burn you!

Ok, that’s my own version. The burning part is not very common, and I’ve heard versions threatening to “donaré un cop de bastó” (hit with the stick). But the “honey and cottage cheese part” is quite standard.

A popular short version

Caga tió
avellanes i torrons
no caguis arengades
que són massa salades
caga torrons que són més bons

Poop, log!
Hazenuts and cottage cheese.
Don’t poop kippers,
They are too salty.
Poop nougats, because they are much better!

That’s a pretty standard song, that comes with the hazelnuts and nougat mention. The fact that the lyrics say they don’t want salted fish (a common cheap meal in the old times) reinforces my theory that sweet treats used to be rare and a reason for celebration.

The longer Cagatio song

Caga tió, tió de Nadal;
posarem el porc en sal,
la gallina a la pastera
i el poll a dalt del pi.
Toca, toca Valentí.
Passen bous i vaques,
gallines amb sabates
i galls amb sabatons.
Correu, correu minyons,
que la teta fa torrons,
el vicari els ha tastat,
diu que són un poc salats.
Ai el brut, ai el porc,
ai el cara, cara, cara,
ai el brut, ai el porc,
ai el cara de pebrot.

Poop, log! Christmas Log!
We’ll salt the pork,
Put the chicken in the pot
and the chick up the pine tree.
Play, play Valentine.
Bulls and cows go by,
and chicken wearing shoes
and roosters wearing boot.
Run, run, kids,
Aunt is making nougat,
the vicar has tried it
and says it’s a bit too salty.
Oh, the filthy, oh the pig,
oh the face, face, face,
Oh, the filthy, oh the pig,
oh the pepper face!

Two things here. First, as you’ve seen, the lyrics make no sense at all. But that’s OK, that happens with many traditional songs for kids. What really matters is that in Catalan the verses rhyme. Second, it’s really long and I think it’s just torture to make the kids wait until the end of the song to lift the blanket!

4

But why? Caga tio history and origins

The origins of the Cagatio are linked to an old Winter Solstice pagan tradition, when a large log would be burning in the household fireplace throughout the cold months, or at least between Christmas and the Epiphany (the Three Wise Men day). Additionally, the ashes would serve as fertilizer for the crops once the Winter was over, ensuring wealth for the year to come. This tradition, known as the Yule Log, has been documented around Europe.

But of course Catalans have their own legend of how the Caga Tio tradition came to be. It is said that in a farmhouse of the village of Sant Quinti de Mediona in the Penedes Wine Country, an evening the youngest of the family were warming up beside the fireplace. They they heard a voice that said: “I’m coming down!”, and a log fell down the smoke pipe, transforming into a sort of goblin with wooden skin. He told them were to find a treasure hidden in the house, and told them that the next day a beggar would knock at their door and they should give her the treasure. The family did so, and after that moment on, fortune always smiled on them.

There’s another story that says that when Jesus was born, a group of shepherds wanted to go visit him in Bethlehem, but they didn’t have a proper gift. The only thing they had was their own food, but they decided to offer it to the Baby anyway. Their generosity was rewarded when on their way back home, by miracle, under a log appeared a pile of food.  But this might be just a feeble attempt at Christianizing a pagan tradition…

Are you still asking yourself why a pooping log tradition? First of all, throughout history logs have always been linked to winter festivities. Then, the Catalan are famous for their scatological sense of humor: the pooping man that we hide on the Nativity, the “nun’s fart” cookies, the tale of Patufet (a Catalan Tom Thumb that was eaten by a cow and pooped out), songs about smelly mountain poops… So why not going a step further and having presents poop? It’s just our culture!

Nowadays, the pooping log in Spain is celebrated in the regions of Catalonia, parts of Aragon (where it’s called Tronca de Nadal) and Galicia (known as Tizón do Nadal). You’ll also see it in Andorra and the Occitan part of the South of France. BTW, do you know when Caga Tio became a thing in the USA?When Kate McKinnon confessed doing it on Late Night with Seth Meyers.

5

Where to get a cagatio statue

The best place to get a Caga Tio log is of course, the Barcelona Christmas markets. There you’ll find stalls dedicated exclusively to them, on all sizes and different finishes. In the Christmas Market in front of the Cathedral of Barcelona, they even set up a giant pooping log for kids to make it poop candy. And if you are visiting Spain, you might also find them in some large supermarkets or department stores. 

Otherwise your only chance is going online. I couldn’t find much on Amazon either, just a kids book and a Christmas ornament. But on Etsy there’s a bit more variety. 

Will you adopt a Tio de Nadal for Christmas?

Marta

Author Marta Laurent Veciana

AUTHOR BIO

Marta is the founder of ForeverBarcelona. She is a passionate tour guide that loves Barcelona and loves writing too. She is the main author of our Blog, and is committed to sharing her knowledge about Barcelona and her best tips with our readers.

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