The trees are up, the lights are on and the countdown to Christmas is well under way – making this the perfect time to introduce you to some new festive friends. We’re all familiar with the chubby hipster in the suit and the magic baby in the play, but there’s actually a whole cast of other weird and wonderful characters that remain virtually unknown outside their native countries.
So allow me to present a few of the most famous Christmas creatures you’ve probably never heard of, starting with this terrifying concept: the Caga Tio (Catalonia’s crappy Father Christmas).
Back in the 90s when EasyJet was cheap and the Euro was but a twinkle in a French economist’s eye, we spent a lot of time flitting between London and Barcelona. We didn’t have much money, but pesetas and hostels meant we could still afford to sprinkle a few long weekends throughout the year – and on one such occasion, we touched down in December.
As we made our way through the Fira de Santa Llúcia – a wonderful Christmas market that sets up shop at the foot of Barcelona Cathedral – I kept spotting something rather unusual among the nativity sets and Christmas wreaths: a log. But not just any old log. This thing had two legs, a smiley face, a sticky-out nose and a little red hat, popping up in various sizes on every stall.
Clearly this wasn’t destined for the fireplace. I thought perhaps it might be some kind of mini-tree for people who lived in dorms or tiny high-rise apartments with no lifts, or maybe a festive substitute for folks who were allergic to pine needles – like a timber equivalent of the hairless cat. The truth was way weirder than that.
Our friends explained that this happy chap was actually a Caga Tio – otherwise known as The Pooping Log. An entirely separate entity to the Christmas tree, he is tended to like a pet by small children in the run-up to Christmas Day. From December 8th to Christmas Eve, they dutifully ‘feed’ him with nougat and orange peel (the last thing you want on Christmas day is a constipated Caga Tio), keeping him warm with a blanket. Adults can secretly swap him for bigger versions along the way as he ‘grows’.
Finally on Christmas Day, the little children gather round the happy Caga Tio to reap the rewards of all their love and kindness – by beating the s*** out of him with a massive stick. Literally. Because this log doesn’t do any old number twos: this log poops presents. The more you feed him, the more presents you get. Makes sense. Biologically speaking.
To lighten the mood (and hide the Caga Tio’s anguished howls of pain and despair), the children sing a lovely song as they bash his head in. It almost sounds like a lullaby – until you translate the lyrics:
Avellanes i mató,
Si no cagues bé
Et daré un cop de bastó.
Shit nougats (turrón),
Hazelnuts and mató cheese,
If you don’t shit well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
Perhaps you’d prefer this delightful variation:
|Tronca de Nadal,
Pixa vi blanc,
No caguis arengades,
Que són massa salades
Que són més bons!”
|Log of Christmas,
Pee white wine,
Don’t shit herrings,
They are too salty,
They are much better!
Or my personal favourite:
D’aquell tant bó,
Si no en tens més, caga diners,
Si no en tens prou, cagan’s un ou
The ones that are so good
If you don’t have more, shit money
If you don’t have enough, shit us an egg.
Once they are wholly satisfied that they’ve battered every last dropping out of the terrified Caga Tio, the children can reach under the blanket at his rear end to retrieve their hard-earned gifts – presumably before tossing his now useless body onto the fire.
Caga Tio: because nothing says Christmas like festive faeces and GBH.