BARCELONA – The most special Catalan Christmas traditions are the ‘Caga Tió’, or the ‘Poop Stump’ and the ‘Caganer’, the pooping farmer. These unique figures attract the attention of many people outside Catalonia and Aragon every year.
The ritual around the Caga Tió involves striking a tree trunk, which is provided with a face, a barretina (Catalan cap) and sometimes even legs. From December 8, families in Catalonia feed Caga Tió (also called Tío Nadal) with leftover scraps of food. They then and cover him with a blanket to keep warm.
Before discovering the Tió, children go to another part of the house to pray for gifts. In the meantime, parents take the opportunity to hide small Christmas sweets under Tió’s blanket. On Christmas Eve the song is sung that encourages the Tió to ‘poop out’ presents. This custom may seem strange, but it is an established Christmas tradition for many Catalan families.
Caga Tió in various forms
The Tió appears in Catalan homes in various forms, ranging from simple wooden blocks to creatively decorated ones with eyes, mouth and nose. Recently, the Tió has been increasingly accompanied by a feminine variant, the Tiona, in all colours and styles.
The caganer in the Nativity scene
Another notable Catalan custom is the ‘caganer’, a figure that appears in the nativity scene with its pants down, showing its behind while relieving itself. Originally the caganer was depicted as a traditional Catalan farmer, but today there are versions of famous people, from local to international celebrities.
What is the origin of the Caga Tió and the caganer?
This curious tradition has its roots in ancient rituals aimed at promoting abundance and family unity during the winter months. Originally, the Tió de Nadal was burned in the fireplace after ‘popping presents’. This fire symbolised community and the continuation of the family, and provided protection from unwanted elements.
The popularity of the caganer, the defecating male in the nativity scene, is clear because it has been passed down from generation to generation. Its origins are uncertain, but are generally thought to date back to the late 16th or early 17th century.
In their book “The Caganer”, Jordi Arruga and Josep Mañà argue that this era was characterised by extreme realism. This included local descriptions of life and customs, including working conditions and family life.
One of the reasons for the caganer’s enduring popularity is its depiction of reality. Catalans consider it a normal part of life, free from shame or embarrassment. The figure is so popular that an association of friends of the caganer was even founded in 1990. This group has around 70 members, some from as far away as the US, who meet twice a year.
What is the meaning of the caganer?
Placing a caganer in the nativity scene is seen as a sign of prosperity and good luck for the coming year. “Feces equals fertilisation, it equals money, it equals happiness and prosperity. That’s what anthropologists say,” explains historian Enric Ucelay-Da Cal, professor emeritus at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. The figure is said to make the soil fertile and bring joy and happiness to the home. Without a caganer, a year of adversity is expected.
Searching for Caga Tió in the forest
In Catalonia, finding a Tió de Nadal, or a beautiful stump of wood that can pass for this Tió, in the forest has gained popularity in recent years. The main purpose of this tradition is to have fun with children in nature. However, authorities are warning families not to damage the forests in their search for their ideal ‘poo stump’. In addition, they are strongly advised to buy their Christmas tree in shops, at Christmas markets or in nurseries instead of taking trees directly from nature reserves.
People also look for holly (Ilex aquifolium) to decorate the block of wood, while the plant is protected and cannot simply be picked. The mouse broom (Ruscus aculeatus), with beautiful green leaves and red berries, is also protected and may not be removed from the forest. The myrtle, Myrtus communis, is not regulated. Nevertheless, it is recommended that you purchase it from a reputable source.
How are caganers made?
Traditional caganers are made from clay, fired in an oven at over 1,000 degrees Celsius and then painted by hand. As the industry has grown, the caganer has evolved; Now there are many different types, both in design and appearance material.
53-year-old Marc-Ignasi Corral is a member of the association and an avid collector of Caganers. He says: “I have some soap, some chocolate, but of course they are for eating.” His shelves are lined with his collection of more than 200 caganers. “I even have them made of glass.”
Caganers are becoming increasingly known outside Catalonia. The figurines have long been a tradition in areas of Portugal and Naples, Italy, and are gaining fans elsewhere too. “In the Caganer association we have members from Italy, Germany, Japan and the United States. It is a very international society,” Corral said.
Marc Alos Pla’s family run the world’s largest caganer producer, caganer.com. He predicts sales will exceed 30,000 units this year. He says about 50% of caganer.com’s foreign sales are sent to the United States, with popular figures such as Donald Trump, David Bowie and Biden.
A quick look at the website shows that there are also caganers in the form of Bert (Sesame Street), Charlie Chaplin, Angela Merkel, the superheroes and famous athletes, such as Messi with the World Cup, but pooping. Something for everyone, for the nativity scene or under the Christmas tree.