As anyone who knows a bit of Catalan might have guessed by now, Caga Tio literally means the ‘Pooping Uncle,’ and this gives a lot away in terms of understanding what this curious guest gets up to. Practically speaking, the Caga Tio – or Tio de Nadal (Christmas Uncle) as he is sometimes called – is a smallish wooden log, covered in a blanket and usually given a warm, smiley face. You’ll find Caga Tio for sale in Christmas markets across the two main provinces from which he originates, Catalunya and Aragon. Come Christmas time, the log is expected to ‘poop’ presents for children and their parents, much to the amusement and amazement of younger spectators.
The story has it that Caga Tio arrives at the doorstep in early December, usually around the time of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th. Those he visits are expected to take him in and take care of him in the run-up to Christmas Day. Children are told to ‘feed’ Caga Tio dry bread, orange peel or dried beans, and in the days just before Christmas, children are told to take extra care of Caga Tio if they want him to bear gifts on Christmas Eve.
This is where it becomes fascinating. In order for the Caga Tio to produce his gifts, children are instructed to beat him with a wooden stick and sing to him, ordering him to poop presents. A common Catalan version of the song goes along the lines of:
Another common version is:
Log of Christmas,
pee white wine,
don’t poop herrings,
they are too salty,
poop nougats (turrón)
they are much better!
Just before hitting the Caga Tio, children are instructed to go out of the room and pray that the Uncle will provide them with lots of gifts. This is when parents usually seize the opportunity to hide the gifts beneath the Caga Tio’s cloak, while the kids are not looking. When the kids return, the gifts are unveiled one by one until there are no more, at which point it’s not uncommon for the Caga Tio to produce an onion or cured herring.
The history of the Caga Tio shows that originally he was simply a large log cut by adults and brought into the house before Christmas. The log symbolized the gifts of warmth and light that were given by the earth in the form of wood. As the practice became more widespread, commercial versions of the log appeared, with a painted face and red blanket.
Traditionally, the Caga Tio always produced relatively small gifts that were destined for all to enjoy communally, not individual gifts. The most common presents offered by the log include turrón (a Catalan nougat), small sweets and biscuits, as well as dried fruits such as candied orange peel or figs.
In recent years, the Caga Tio has grown in popularity in the regions of Catalunya and Aragon, where it is seen as an important part of the unique cultural heritage of each region. As a result, the gifts have tended to become more important, and the Caga Tio plays a similar role to that of Santa Claus in the USA.