A Catalan Christmas is a shitty Christmas and that’s good. It’s tradition.
I was lucky enough to be introduced to the Catalan traditional Christmas by the youth of the English classes where I am a conversation assistant. They told me about the pessebre (nativity scene) where the main focus, for them anyway, is Balthazar, Meltor and Gaspar. That’s what they told me. Because, for them, it’s all about the presents. The Maji get into your house and deliver cool stuff on January 6th. Mind you, the Three Kings do keep the good v. evil balance going. They’re going to hand over some coal if you’ve been bad.
The young folk didn’t use the concept of the Twelve Days of Christmas and none of the young people in the five classes that told me about Christmas in Catalunya actually go to church. Jesus did cop a mention but only in passing. Most houses will have their own nativity scene as will the local community.
Pessebres can extend to an entire village, including workers and trades. There is also a hidden figure, a the down-to-earth figure, the Caganer.
Apparently the tradition of the Shitter, hiding amongst the animals and shepherds, has been traced back to the seventeenth century, so it’s no modern comment on the current state of the church but is perhaps a leveller – all people do it. Either that, or the Fertiliser.
That’s not all the shit that goes down at Christmas. Catalan parents tell their children that a log creeps down from the forest, magically comes into their house and the family have to look after it. For around four weeks before Christmas Eve.
They put a blanket over its hind quarters. They can tell which is the back because someone has painted a jolly cute face on the front. Someone has also made two little legs, sturdy and balancing up the face for happy onlookers. And someone has put a little hat on the log. It’s Tió! Carga Tio! (That means shitty uncle, or log in this case.)
Once the Tió is in the house, and modestly covered, it has to be fed. It likes madarin and banana peels and bits of bread.
The teacher told me its actually quite stressful having a Tió because you have to remember to clean up the food each day. Her children worried last year when she forgot and the kids thought the Tió was sick and wouldn’t give them presents. Oh, yes, that’s why the children feed the log, you thought they were sorry for it, didn’t you. WRONG!
It’s Christmas Eve. Everyone is anticipating fun and frivolity!
First up, the children need to go into their rooms and sing or pray for presents. On return to the Tió, (now suspiciously lumpy behind) the family sing a special Carga Tió song and they take a stick and HIT the Tio! They beat the Tio! Until the log has done its natural business. The song encourages the log to shit quality items or it will be hit. While it’s being hit.
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The log poops out presents for the children. Apparently it goes over big with the under 7s.
The 14 year olds who informed me of this ancient tradition told me earnestly it was not true. Gosh.
One of the young people told me a happy family beat their log not knowing that one of the gifts was a puppy. Apparently the poor thing stayed quiet during the beating but was never quite right again.
So, you’ve got your presents on Christmas Eve and on the 6th of January. Hang on, haven’t we forgotten someone? Santa Claus! Yup, he’s invited to Catalan Christmas as well! Strangely, I could find no images of Papa Noel shitting.
These kids get three bites! Tió only brings small stuff, like socks and sweets, while Santa, on the 25th of December, might get you something good. The big stuff comes with the Kings. No concept of Winter Solstice. No longest night. No reason to celebrate except getting presents. Sounds okay? What about the fact the Tió creeps in from the forest, Santa comes down the chimney and, the Three Kings? How do they invade your home? One of the kids informed me they teleport.