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Tió de Nadal: A Bizarre and Creepy Catalan Christmas Tradition

‘Tis the season… when sleigh bells go ringing, and ornaments dangle from prickly pine limbs amidst lights and sweetly-scented air. It’s Christmas time, and as is customary for this time of the year, it’s time that we begin looking at some of the creepy Christmas traditions that are celebrated around the world.

The Yule Log is one of Europe’s most famous Christmas traditions; burning of a ceremonial log on a hearth around Christmas time dates back to at least the 16th and 17th century, although some have suggested that earlier ties to Germanic pagan traditions may be the source for this unique form of celebration.

The early 20th-century poet William Hamilton Hayne summarized the Yule log thusly:

Out of the mighty Yule log came
The crooning of the lithe wood-flame,—
A single bar of music fraught
With cheerful yet half pensive thought,—
A thought elusive: out of reach,
Yet trembling on the verge of speech.

From the beginning, Hamilton makes reference to the crooning and “lithe wood-flame” coming out of the Yule log, but that’s not all that is believed to come out of these ceremonial logs, at least according to some similar traditions a little further south. For instance, in Catalan mythology, there is a unique take on the Christmas log tradition known as the Tió de Nadal, which is almost like some bizarre combination of European Yule log traditions, and South Park’s beloved Mr. Hankey, “the Christmas poo.”

A collection of Christmas Tió de Nadal logs.

The Tió de Nadal, rather than being burned like Yule logs, is actually decorated and given anthropomorphic features including a face, limbs (which presumably some logs may have already), and a sock-like hat called a barretina which is usually red, and worn in the Mediterranean (although a Santa hat or other decorations of this sort might also be used). The log is typically also draped with a blanket or other seasonal covering, so as to keep the little fellow from getting cold. Beginning on December 8th, and thereafter throughout the Christmas season, the log is “fed” by children, who are encouraged to take very good care of the log and feed him well.

This all culminates in the Tió de Nadal’s grand performance on Christmas Eve, when the well-fed little log is moved over by the fireplace, and according to tradition, ordered to defecate by the head of the household. The log then produces presents in this manner, in what is arguably the most strangely scatological seasonal tradition of its kind.

Sometimes there is a song that accompanies this celebration, which, translated from the Catalan, goes something like this:

Shit log, shit nougats (turrón),
hazelnuts and mató cheese,
if you don’t shit well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
shit, log!

The song is sung as children gently wrap on the Tió de Nadal with sticks, striking harder to accompany the words Caga Tio (that is, “shit log”). After singing this song, tradition holds that someone reaches under the Tió de Nadal and removes a present, and then the process repeats.

A group of children beating the Tió de Nadal mercilessly, as their parents appear to watch with delight.

The Tió de Nadal may not be the creepiest Christmas tradition, and there are certainly plenty more to be found elsewhere in Europe, and the rest of the world (some of which have been illustrated by my good pal Sam Shearon, artist extraordinaire that he is). Of course, we have a good ways to go before Santa’s sleigh bells start ringing, and as we keep our Yule fires burning throughout the season, there will be ample opportunities for more Christmas updates of the creepy kind here at Mysterious Universe. 

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Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.
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