“This article is a love letter to childhood, innocence, and home”. As the winter holidays are fast approaching, Júlia Rovira Munté introduces us to the Catalan tradition of the Caga Tió. The Caga Tió has been an integral part of the holiday festivities for centuries, sparking joy and happiness in children and adults alike. It is fed and kept warm, and then it rewards the families with sweets and presents in an unconventional way. It is truly “the most magical wooden log”.
Caga Tió. Picture by Valerie Hinojosa on Flickr.
Catalonia is a special place. With a rich history and Mediterranean flare, it has a set of unique traditions that distinguish it from anywhere else in the world. One of them is the Caga Tió, a custom that has been cherished by many families for centuries. This article is a love letter to childhood, innocence, and home.
Nowadays, Catalan people experience Christmas pretty much like any other European does, as Father Christmas has crept up and crowned himself the most popular creature during the holidays. In the past, however, a wooden log called Caga Tió took the spotlight on the dates of the 24th and 25th of December, while the Three Wisemen made their grand entrance on the eve of the 5th of January. Despite the arrival of new, globalised traditions, every small child’s eyes will glisten when telling you about that log in their homes that spends a month being fed and cared for in order to get it to defecate - yes, defecate - presents during those dates. It may sound strange to some, yet it is one of the most loved Christmas celebrations in Catalan households.
The Caga Tió has two painted eyes, a nose, and a mouth, along with two wooden sticks that act as legs. It can often be found with a throw over it and a typical Catalan hat (a barretina), to keep it warm during the cold days. Traditionally, it was related to the winter solstice, and signified abundance following a dark season. After being fed fruit, vegetables, scraps, and sawdust throughout December, the Caga Tió would defecate sweets, nougat, and other small trinkets, as the biggest presents were to be borne by the Three Wisemen.
When I was a child, the Caga Tió was a symbol of family, unity, and good times. In my household, we celebrated it on the evening of the 26th of December - which is a national holiday in Catalonia - in my grandparents’ house near Girona. My cousins and I were of similar ages, so it was an endearing and exciting moment for us all. We went to the kitchen to ‘prepare’ the stick used to beat the log and sang a song along with my uncle, who was the adult designated to be in charge of distracting us while others placed the presents under the Caga Tió’s blanket. After that, we all went to the living room and beat the Caga Tió, while waiting for our name to be called out as my family took the presents from under the throw. It was a sensorial experience that I will always keep near my heart. The smell of wood burning in the fireplace, the sounds of us singing the traditional Caga Tió song, the feeling of the stick’s rough wood as we all grabbed it, the taste of the nougat left in our mouths, and seeing the joy and happiness in everyone’s eyes.
Getting older and parting ways with your inner child is never easy. As illness arose in the family, the Caga Tió was safely stored in a wardrobe. It has not come out since. We naturally grew up, and so did part of the spark tied to this tradition. Still, the natural charm of traditions is that they never truly die. Our moment with the Caga Tió may have passed, yet in the near future, we will prepare ourselves to be the adults that hide the presents under the blanket and distract the children in the kitchen. The role performed may be different, but the magic and brilliance will still be as present as ever.
As author Henry James (1906) once said, “It takes an endless amount of history to make even a little tradition” (p. 28). To end this piece, it may be appropriate to highlight the importance and necessity of never forgetting one’s culture, history, and traditions, for it is what makes us who we are, and what we will become in the future. Albeit a bit strange to foreigners, the Caga Tió is one of Catalonia’s unique characteristics that we will proudly explain to everyone who is willing to listen, as sharing our culture may as well be the greatest Christmas gift of all.
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James, H. (1906). New York: Social Notes. The North American Review, 182(590), 19-31.