Christmas has truly arrived here in Spain with Christmas lights twinkly along the streets, shops stocked with sweet turrón (like nougat) and town squares hosting miniature nativity scenes called beléns. Here in Catalunya though, as well as the snowmen, Santa Claus figures and the Three Kings, you’ll notice a few Catalan Christmas traditions which may seem quite odd.
One of the most bizarre is a small figurine in traditional Catalan attire, squatting with his pants down and pooing.
Walking around the main Christmas market in Barcelona – the Fira de Santa Llúcia, you’ll spot many of these quirky pooing Christmas decorations called caganers, which actually feature in the nativity scenes themselves. The tradition dates back to the 18th century and is seen as sign of good luck by fertilising the ground for next year’s crops and ensuring a good harvest. They even sell many of these caganers who look like popular celebrities or important political figures.
Another quirky feature of the Catalan Christmas is Caga Tió or the ‘Poo Log’ – a small piece of tree log featuring a painted smiley face a red Catalan barratina (traditional hat) and small wooden legs. On December 8th, all over Catalonia, children will bring out their Caga Tió ready for the Christmas season and will look after him until Christmas Eve. Each night they will cover Caga Tió with a blanket to make sure he is warm and feed him with pieces of turrón, so that come Christmas Eve he will poo out lots of treats for them.
On Christmas Eve, after the large family dinner, out comes Caga Tió ready to be beaten with sticks while the children sing a special Christmas song, which goes like this:
“Caga Tió avellanes I torró
Si no vols cagar
Et donanem un cop de pal.”
“Caga Tió hazelnuts and turrón
If you don’t want to poo
We will hit you with a stick.”
When they’re finished hitting him with sticks, the children will reach under Caga Tió’s blanket to find sweets and toys, kind of like when we find presents in our Christmas stockings.
So if you’re thinking of coming to Catalunya over the festive period, keep your eyes open for these quirky Catalan Christmas figurines, and maybe even start a new tradition with them back home.