Where does the Tió de Nadal and Caganer tradition come from?
Updated December 2022.
The Tió de Nadal or Cagatió is one of the traditions most deeply rooted in Catalan Christmas. Together with the figure of the Caganer in the manger scene, the Tió de Nadal (meaning in English “Christmas Log”) chairs numerous homes when this time of year arrives. Have you ever wondered why we have such scatological traditions in our land? We are not surprised that a lot of people coming from outside are stunned seeing us beating the Tió with sticks to make it defecate gifts or that they do not understand why there are so many figures with their ass left out defecating on the stalls of the Christmas markets.
Today we explain you why these traditions!
Tió de Nadal or Christmas Log
Beating the Tió de Nadal or Christmas Log is a tradition that surprises many people coming out from Catalonia or Aragón. When they see all the members of the family hitting a trunk with barretina (the traditional Catalan red cap), previously fed, at the rhythm of a song that encourages the log to defecate gifts, it is pretty normal to be surprised! The tradition is to bring a piece of strain or thick stalk to your home a few days before Christmas, place it in some corner with a blanket so it does not get cold and feed it daily with remnants of food until the day to make the Tió defecate the gifts. There are homes where the Tió is simply a piece of wood, a piece of cork, or a box of different sizes as appropriate for the space and sizes of the gifts that will have to be shattered; there are also houses where it is an authentic pice of art with eyes, barretina, legs, mouth and nose.
In recent years, more and more Tionas have been appearing in Catalan homes. The Tió has ceased to be a male figure and now there are both options: the Tió and the Tiona, with all kinds of hair, make-up and clothes in a whole range of colours.
It defecates gifts that have changed a lot over time. Traditionally, the Tió never gave big objects -the Three Wise Men were the ones who used to do it- but candies, manger scene figurines, socks, as well as food and drinks for Christmas and St Stephen Day, such as nougat, champagne, dried figs, etc. Currently, however, the Tió becomes, along with the Three Wise Men, the great supplier of Christmas gifts in many homes.
But where does this tradition so strange come from? The Tió de Nadal has its origins in ancient ritual practices aimed at fostering abundance and family cohesion during the winter period. In the past, this piece of sturdy truck (the Tió) was burning in the fireplace once it had expelled all the gifts. This winter fire symbolized, in the form of ritual, the community and the continuity of the family: it made light and moved the strange -real or imaginary- elements away from the house. Originally, the trunk was burning from Christmas Day to the Three Wise Men Day, and then it was stored in a discrete place symbolizing a protective amulet of the house, the cattle and the fields. It also used to be a tradition to spread the ashes for crops and stables, and even over the beds, as a ritual to foster fertility.
El Caganer del Pessebre or the Crapper of the Manger Scene
The Caganer is a typical Catalan Christmas figure that is characterized by appearing in the manger scene of many homes with the pants down and its ass left out defecating outdoors! From its appearance, the Caganer is represented as a typical Catalan farmer, dressed in a red sash and barretina and wearing a pipe on his lips, but over the years he has evolved and models of famous figures are being created as politicians, actors, musicians or soccer players, as well as Caganers dedicated to specific towns, distant traditions, trades or animals. The farmer, however, has not ceased to be the most popular form.
Tradition explains that putting it in the nativity scene brings good luck to the home because faeces fertilize the earth and bring luck and joy for next year. If it is not placed, a year of trials are expected at home. It is also said that with the Caganer there is the health and the tranquillity of body and the soul that is necessary to mount the manger scene, with the joy that Christmas brings to the home.
And you, did you know these traditions? Just in case, we already have the Tió de Nadal and the Caganer of the Manger Scene prepared to shine these Christmas holidays and not to make the tradition die!
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