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Christmas in Catalan

Lucy continues, on a more festive holiday note, reminiscing from her Christmases in Catalan:

“Every Dec. 8, the Feast of The Immaculate Conception, a little Christmas log (Tío de Nadal) appears in the homes of the Catalan people. The log, popularly called ‘Caga Tío’ (‘Pooping Log’), has a perky face painted on one end and a jaunty little red hat and is fed and watered from Dec. 8 through Dec. 23. At bedtime, the log is covered up with a red or tartan blanket to keep it cosy. On the 24th, children and adults gather around Tío and, at first, tap him gently with a stick as they sing Tío’s song:

“Caga Tío, Tío de Nadal, no caguis arengades,

Que son massa salades,

Caga turrons! Que son mes bons.”

(Christmas Log, Christmas Log, don’t poop sardines,

They are too salty,

Poop turrons (nougat)! They are much better.)

“The pace and force of hitting picks up, ending with each person giving Tío a mighty whack in the hope that he poops some candy underneath his blanket, which, of course, eventually he does.

“(Don’t be confused by the translation of ‘Tío’ as ‘log’ and not ‘uncle.’ ‘Tío’ is Catalan for log, whereas ‘tío,’ with the accent on the ‘o,’ is ‘uncle’ in Spanish.)

“Pooping is not a tradition confined to Tío at Christmas. If you look carefully at Catalan nativity scenes, you’ll see a figure (Caganer) with trousers down, squatting, perhaps behind a barn or a bush, to well…poop! Even as the Messiah is born, the Catalans believe that nothing should distract man from giving back nourishment to the ground on which we depend.

“Catalan children then have a long wait. Santa does not come down their chimneys. Instead, Los Reyes (The Kings or Els Reis, in Catalan) bring gifts to each home at dawn on Jan. 6, Epiphany. The days leading up to Jan. 5th, Spanish children deliver letters to the King’s Postmen (carters).

“In Sitges, close to Barcelona, ‘Els Reis’ is a magical celebration. On the night of the 5th, the entire town gathers beneath the towering 15th-century church for the arrival of The Kings. There is a mass of glowing lanterns, each one clutched by an expectant child. Each year there is a slightly different ‘arrival.’ My favorite began with a boat bobbing along the coast with golden lights flashing off its bow. After what seemed like an age, the Kings appeared at the top of the church steps, 100 feet above us. Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, each inside a massive clear ball, were rolled gently down the long flight of steps to a platform raised above our heads. The sumptuously dressed kings were then raised onto mechanised, larger-than-life-sized camels and set off to parade around the town, throwing vast amounts of candy to all the cheering Sitgeanas. When the children return home, they leave out a pair of old shoes, which are replaced, by dawn the next day, with the Kings’ gifts.

“Epiphany is a grand family celebration with a large ring-shaped cake, the Tortell dels Reis, forming the centrepiece. The Tortell is decorated with candied fruits, symbolising the emeralds and rubies on the robes of the Three Kings. Hidden inside the cake is a tiny crown; the person to find it is King or Queen of the house for the remainder of the day.”

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