Like the UK, people in Catalonia were able to start complaining very early about how early the Christmas season starts. Only a couple of days into November, my favourite Catalan chain restaurant was being draped in artificial greenery, baubles and lights with instrumental carols joining their normal classical playlist.
It’s easy to blithely assume (read: I had blithely assumed) that Christmas is celebrated much the same all over the “Western” world. The same mix of vague Christianity and globalised capitalism. But that’s not the case. For one, in Catalonia, they really go for their Pessebre (Nativity Scenes): town centres gain life-size stables and models in friendly competitions, full sideboards in houses are covered in animals and trees and rivers and every possible Biblically-appropriate character (or a Playmobil approximation). For another, it’s the Reyes Magos (Three Wise Men) who are often still the bearers of presents for Catalans in early January, not our composite Santa Claus in late December. That’s not to say they don’t do Santa, in fact a lot of families have been taking up Father Christmas so the kids have more time with their new toys before returning to school, it just means they often have their proper gifts on one day and another smaller something on the other. But that isn’t the only way Catalans get extra presents compared with Brits…
Would you like to hear about the third way that Catalan kids get presents? Yes. Yes you would.
Weeks before Christmas, little Catalan boys and little Catalan girls head out into the woods to collect smallish tree logs (or parents head to shops/Christmas markets to buy them). They give these logs little legs, little hats and paint little faces on them with little eyes and little mouths. These are the tiós de Nadal (Christmas logs). Then, every evening, they leave lots of food out for the log to eat overnight. If the child is nice during the day, the log will eat the food and, erm, increase internal build-up; if the child is naughty, the food will still be there in the morning. The aim of this is to produce as much, shall we say, through-flow as possible.
Ah, let’s scrub the euphemisms. The story is that the more the log eats, the more it will defecate out in the form of presents.
But wait, there’s more. These presents are not freely given at the end of the force-feeding regimen. Oh no. Come Christmas Day (or sometimes Christmas Eve), the kids get smaller cousins of the tíos (sticks, for the less poetically minded) and beat the logs, singing a happy song. Checking under the blanket (the back of the log is covered by a blanket, yeah I should have mentioned it earlier), they find a disappointing lack of presents. So they go away briefly to pray for it to defecate. When they come back, they then subject the poor inanimate wood to another beating and another a cheery song, look under the blanket again and, surprise! Food!
If that story doesn’t bring you joy this Christmas, I’m out. I just hope Catalans aren’t inspired to start physically beating Madrid until they get what they want out of them!
So, that’s the story of what’s normally called the caga tió, “poopy log” (yes, pedants, not a 100% literal translation, but I feel it’s more pleasing this way). I should possibly repeat that this is genuinely true, not a very long walk for a bad pun, but: poor Catalan kids, the only ones in the world who can’t complain if they think the presents on Christmas Day are a load of crap…