Another Christmas detail may seem innocuous to the casual observer in Barcelona. In the city’s Christmas street markets beginning in late November, what at first glance seems a painted Yule log is put on sale. However, just as in the Catalan Nativity scene not all is as it first appears, this is no ordinary chunk of wood for the Christmas fireplace.
The Catalan Yule log is more properly the Tió de Nadal (“Christmas log”) or, colloquially – but politely, so as not to use the “s” word – the Caga Tió (“poop log”). He is generally a hollowed out log, which often has a face painted on one end and sports the barretina, the traditional red stocking cap with a black band worn by Catalan peasants. Oftentimes he also has feet on one end so he does not roll about on a flat surface. He can range in size from about the length of your finger to absolutely monstrous proportions.
The log is brought home to the kitchen or dining room, where he resides throughout Advent. His lower half is covered with a blanket to keep him warm, and every day he is “fed”. Things like oranges, nuts, leftovers, etc. are placed before him and are magically consumed while everyone is asleep. Sometimes, the available range of sizes of the log allows him to “grow” during the course of the Advent season, the smaller log being secretly replaced at night with a larger one.
On Christmas Eve the log makes his appearance in the living room, and the children are asked to go to their rooms and pray three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys, during which the log is stuffed with treats or they are placed under his blanket. The children are then called into the living room and handed wooden sticks or canes. And now the fun really begins.
The log, you see, is somewhat constipated from all of the good food he has been eating since he came in from the forest, and now he needs to have some relief. So the children start beating the log with their sticks, singing a song entitled – again, using a slightly nicer word – “Poop, log!” I have heard several different versions, but here is a typical one to sing while beating the…well, poop out of the log:
Poop, log, poop!
Poop nougat, hazelnuts and cheese!
Don’t poop sardines,
they are too salty!
If you don’t poop well,
we’ll whack you again!
After singing the song and the end of the bludgeoning, the blanket is removed, and the “poops” are examined. Traditionally they are treats like torró (nougat), candies, etc. More recently the log has been known to excrete a few gift-wrapped presents, although to be traditional presents are supposed to be delivered by the Three Wise Men on Epiphany. Below is a video showing the custom in a compressed time frame for television purposes, rather than over the entire course of Advent:
If you have been bad, then unfortunately you might get a sardine, which of course you asked the log not to give you. Just like St. Nicholas or the Three Wise Men, the log somehow knows who has been naughty and who has been nice. Despite his wisdom in this regard, once the log has relieved himself he is rather indecorously consigned to the fireplace, since he can only produce his magic poop once in his lifetime. But with any luck, there will be a new Caga Tió coming to visit next year.