He was a cute little guy wearing an oversize traditional Catalán red hat. From his place on the countertop of St. Christopher’s Inns Hostel in Barcelona, his raised eyebrows and big black eyes stared at me with an expression of perpetual surprise. His front legs, just a couple of twigs stuck into a rough log, rested on a sheet of paper with the title: “The Tradition of the Caga Tio – Shitting Log.” I read on as I waited to check in.
In the beginning, Caga Tio was just a log that, when burned in the fireplace, provided precious heat and light. Fire to the earth. Over time, it became a symbol of other gifts given to the household at Christmas, such as candy, nougat, and wafers. Each Christmas, in homes all over Catalonia, Spain, a Caga Tio is kept in the kitchen or dining room near the fire as the holidays approach, where family members “feed” it dry bread, carob, orange peels, tangerines and other fruits and make sure it has water to drink. Thanks to all this caring, on Christmas Eve, traditionally after midnight mass, or on Christmas morning, Caga Tio “shits” gifts.
I had the strongest urge to pick up the log and see if it had “shit” anything, as the idea of a log “shitting” Christmas presents is certainly one of the more bizarre cultural traditions I’ve ever run across. But being from a country where a fat man in a red suit lands on a rooftop in a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer, shimmies down a chimney, and leaves candy in stockings hung from the mantle of the fireplace, I decided I had no room to judge and, with some effort, restrained myself.