And you thought your holiday traditions were crappy.
In America, the days and weeks preceding Christmas are marked by familiar traditions: Kids write lengthy letters to Santa and count down the days using Advent calendars. Parents prepare by baking cookies for friends and family. But in Catalonia, an autonomous region in Spain, the process of preparing for Christmas is 100% more violent and scatological.
Enter Caga Tió, the “shit log.”
The tradition begins on the evening of December 8th, with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a public holiday celebrating Mary’s preservation from original sin. On this night, Catalonian families assemble their version of a Yule log, called Tió de Nadal. The log consists of a hollow wooden block propped up on stick legs. It’s decorated with a smiley face and adorned with a blanket to keep him warm. On his head he wears a jaunty red woolen beret, called a barretina, which is traditionally worn as a symbol of Catalan identity.
Every night until Christmas Eve, Catalonian children approach the log, offering him an assortment of food and drink (usually vegetables, nuts and water) in an effort to jumpstart the log’s digestive tract. The payoff comes on Christmas Eve, when the children, armed with sticks, surround the log and literally beat the shit out of him. When the abuse is complete, the children retreat to their bedrooms to pray for a plentiful haul, while their parents hide presents and candies underneath the log’s blanket.
At long last, the children return to the scene of the crime to lift up the log’s covering and reveal what presents Tió de Nadal has released from the depths of its bowels; if the parents are lucky, the log will gift them with a urinated stream of white wine. The log signals the end of the festivities by dropping a deuce of smelly salt herring. Centuries ago, when the tradition was initially established, families would burn the logs and spread the ashes across their crops, stables and beds, in an attempt to increase fertility and prosperity.
In Spain, creating the logs is such a lucrative line of work that artists, known as tionaires, have created entire businesses around the ritual. These artisans begin preparing the wood in February, so the logs will be dry and ready to decorate by summer. The finished products are sold at Catalan Christmas markets, with some artists accepting requests for made-to-order logs in the style of superheroes or comic book characters. Some families purchase multiple logs of various sizes and replace them every few days, creating the illusion that the log is growing, slowly becoming bloated with both poop and presents.
It’s no Advent calendar, but it’s a shit ton more fun.