Those of you who read my post about the Caganer might think that having a Christmas tradition based around defecation is slightly unusual. But how about having two Christmas traditions based around defecation? For the caganer is not the only scatological tradition that the Catalans enjoy. There is also the Tió de Nadal – a rather unique Catalan Christmas log.
In fact, the Tió de Nadal gives the phrase ‘Christmas log’ a whole new meaning. It is, as you might assume, a hollow piece of wood. Originally this would have been a simple log but these days it is commercially produced and often has a pair of forearms, a cartoon face and a traditional Catalan hat. The log sits in or near the fireplace from around 8 December and, rather than being burned on the fire like a normal log, it is covered with a blanket to keep it warm. Children are encouraged to be kind to the log and to feed it and treat it well. And children know they have to follow this instruction – for the Tió de Nadal is actually a highly unusual festive gift-giver and children know that the kindness they show to their festive log will lead to them being rewarded with presents. So children offer food to the log, placing it on or underneath the blanket. By the next morning the parents have taken the food and the children find that it has ‘mysteriously’ disappeared.
Finally on Christmas Day – or sometimes Christmas Eve – the ceremony of the Tió de Nadal begins. The children are given a stick and are encouraged to beat the log repeatedly whilst singing the songs of Tió de Nadal, which crudely implore the log to excrete presents for the family.
The songs tend to have translations that involve slightly unusual language for a children’s ceremony.
Shit log, shit me a gift
Shit me turrón and shit me sweets,
If you don’t shit well,
I’ll hit you with a stick, shit log!
Upon hearing the song, and being beaten repeatedly, the log will excrete one gift at a time. These are usually small treats such as sweets and chocolate that the parents have concealed inside the log or under the blanket. The adult reaches under the blanket and ‘finds’ what the Tió de Nadal has excreted. A great play is made of the effort the log has gone to in order to produce the gift and then the next child (if there is more than one) takes their turn to beat the log and chant for a gift to be ‘shat’ out. And so on and so on until there are a number of sweets and chocolates for the family to share.
The ceremony ends when the log no longer produces sweets but instead excretes something sharper – usually a herring or a bulb of garlic. This means the log has run dry for the year and the ceremony is over.
Bad Santas and Other Creepy Christmas Characters is available now from Simon & Schuster. The Illustration above is by Melissa Four and is taken from the book.
 A Spanish delicacy that’s a bit like nougat.