The two Catalan traditions that are always present in my home

Photo: P360P

The anticipation builds up as the appointed day approaches. The uncle, whom we went to the forest to look for a few days before, is already tucked under the Christmas tree with a blanket. 

Walking into our house in December and seeing a tree trunk with glued-on eyes, a smile and a red hat - called a barratina - with an empty plate in front of it, could surprise anyone; but in this family it's common and, for the little ones, even expected. 

The tió is a peculiar, kind and affectionate trunk. The tradition that predates Christianity comes from Catalonia, a region in northeastern Spain where Catalan is spoken.

The boys and girls must remember to feed the tio every night before going to bed, and when they wake up they will find that he has eaten everything that was left for him. Thus, as the days go by, he becomes happier and happier with the care of the house.

The long awaited day has arrived. In my family it is always done on December 24 on Christmas Eve, mainly because if what we like to celebrate is what the tió represents: the belief that nature is asleep during the winter and that it harbors within it the abundance of spring, summer, and the harvest of autumn. It is the end and the rebirth of something new. Originally it was done at the winter solstice. 

The children of the house are excited and get ready to hit the tió with a stick. But first, they have to get it wet. They all go to the kitchen or the bathroom to wet the stick well, about ten times under the tap is enough. The tió waits tucked under the tree for the creatures to return with the wet stick. Why do you wet the stick? Well, to hit the trunk well, otherwise the magic is useless. 

They run back to the tió and now they sing! Because if you don't sing, you don't achieve anything either. 

Caga tió -Caga tió- -Caga tió-
Tió de nadal -Christmas tea-
caga turrons d?avellanes i pignons -pocca hazelnut and pine nut nougat-.
no caguis arangades -don't shit herrings-
that are salty dough -which are salty-
caga torrons -caga turrones- -caga turrones-
that are better. -that they are better.

Photo: P360P

While the song is being sung, the trunk is hit several times, with desire. At the end of the song, the blanket is lifted and ta-ta! The uncle has "pooped" a little present for you. It can be sweets, nougat, toy presents if you behaved well during the year. But if you behaved badly, don't be surprised if the uncle shits a lump of coal or a piece of toilet paper. 

The tió is magical for young and old. It is a tradition that brings the family together for a fun activity after Christmas dinner. It reminds us of the humanity within us all, as we all go to the bathroom.  

The tió is originally burnt in the fireplace after the festivities to provide light and warmth to the hearth, but as we have never had a fireplace we just return it to the forest to be happy and hopefully find it again the following year.

A similar tradition to the tió, also from Catalonia, is the the caganer (the one who shits). Originally a clay figurine of a peasant dressed in the typical Catalan way with the barratina, with his trousers down with his buttocks in the air, in the position of a little eagle, and who is shitting.

Photo: P360P

It is not metaphorical, but it is clearly seen on the ground that the little figure has between his legs a little shit. This figure cannot be missing in a Catalan nativity scene. It reminds us how human we are, and represents the fertility of the earth. Also, being the most exotic figure in the crib, it represents the inclusion of otherness. We are all the caganer.

We have this figurine at home on our bookshelf, next to the Daruma and the singing frog from Peru. And every December it leaves the bookcase to take a starring place in the nativity scene next to the tree.

Photo: P360P

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