Introducing the Caga Tio
For two weeks, you feed and care for the Caga Tio till he is all grown-up. Come Christmas Day, you make him ‘poop’ by beating him with sticks and singing various songs.
I first heard of Caga Tio when I visited the Catalonia region of Spain two years ago. Caga (pronounced Caca) means poop and Tio means tree trunk or Uncle. In Spain, I met some friends of Jur's who had children and we discussed life in Spain as I always like to ask about local holidays and traditions. I kept hearing them refer to Caga Tio before I finally had to ask "who is this pooping Uncle you keep talking about?"
Apparently Caga Tio appears on the Feast of The Immaculate Conception on 8 December. He is a small piece of wood with a face painted on it and two front legs. He is kept as a pet for the next month where he is fed and kept warm by the children. If they do this he will grow every few days!
(Top Secret: Rudy and Manon (Jur's friends in Spain) say THEY actually replace the Caga Tio every few days. I was a bit disappointed to find out Spain does not actually have logs that grow if you feed them.)
Rudy says "Yesth it is easy, I just go outside and find a piece of wood and paint another face on it."
This is easy for Manon and Rudy because they live in the country. The poor Catalonian urban parents have to trek out to the woods to find larger Caga Tios or secretly buy them from Caga Tio shops and hide them around the house.
By the time Christmas Eve or Christmas day has arrived, Caga Tio is full grown (full being the important word here). The tradition was to put part of Caga Tio in the fire to get him ready to do his thing. However since many people do not have fireplaces now, he is usually put in the centre of the living room covered in his large red blanket and ready for the festivities to begin. Children gather around the Caga Tio with sticks and hit him. They hit him over and over again and sing wonderful classic holiday songs (that we all know and love) such as:
Caga tió, caga torró, avellanes i mató, si no cagues bé et daré un cop de bastó. caga tió!
(poop log, poop Spanish Candy, hazelnuts and cottage cheese, if you don't poop well, I'll hit you with a stick, poop log!)
I also learned that getting children to sing songs and hit a log until it poops gifts is a great way to keep them busy and exhaust them.
Once the Caga Tio has been tortured enough, he is ready to "relieve" himself. Traditionally he poops small gifts like candies, trinkets, coins and such but apparently over the years he has become more "regular" or "capable" and all kinds of gifts poop out! I couldn't help but wonder....like a Plasma Screen TV? Or an Easy Bake Oven?
The Caga Tio also used to traditionally poop fruit. A favourite was dried figs which would be shared by all those present. That tradition has faded and I assume it is because they realised that it was.....well...in my opinion a bit too realistic.
(More TOP SECRET: Apparently a parent stands behind the Caga Tio and as the children sing it is announced that Caga Tio is pooping and slides a gift from under the blanket. Or another way is the blanket is lifted to reveal all that Caga Tio has pooped.)
You know Caga Tio is all "pooped" out when he poops a salted herring or urinates. I never found out how that is done exactly but I feel I know enough already. The herring was the inspiration for the Classic Christmas song:
Caga tió, tió de Nadal, no caguis arengades, que són massa salades caga torrons que són més bons!
(poop log, log of Christmas, don't poop herrings, which are too salty, poop Spanish candy which is much better!)
Then while everyone plays with Caga Tio's poop gifts, you burn him for warmth!
I became instantly fascinated with Caga Tio. I felt the need to celebrate the Caga Tio and decided to send out to all my friends and loved ones Christmas Cards of the Caga Tio.
I probably should have thought this out more. Apparently people receiving a picture of children beating a log as it poops gifts is not very traditional and rather unexpected in the United States. I think I may have upset or offended a few more spiritual friends and family. That year, in return, I received, by far, the most "spiritual" holiday cards I have ever received. Reminders that "Jesus is the reason for the Season" and all kinds of Nativity scene prints.
Despite this I was too filled with my excitement of the Caga Tio. I still wanted to do more to share him with all.
My dear friend Rob provided me with the way to do this. He was in Spain with me during the Caga Tio discovery. He, too, was fascinated with Caga Tio and being as crafty as he is, made me an entire basket of Caga Tio ornaments. I was thrilled.
However, it appears that I was mostly alone in my enthusiasm for both of these. I know this last Christmas I went from house to house of friends and family only to find my Caga Tio ornament on their trees. I often would find my rejected Caga Tio hung low and to the back and "coincidently" often next to the German traditional lucky Pickle ornament I gave in another year!
I still celebrate the Caga Tio (and the Pickle) and I encourage you and yours to consider adding him to your Christmas traditions!
Ken Hardy / Expatica
The writer is an American expat living in the Netherlands. He has taken advantage of his move to Holland to get to know the Dutch and as much of Europe as he can! (Love Spain FYI!) His blog, My Dutch Fairytale (previously known as Dutch Depression), offers humour, laughter and unique insights about living abroad, other cultures and being an ExPat.