Unusual Christmas Traditions: Caga Tio and El Caganer / by Chris Hall

A cartoon featuring both a Caga Tio and a Caganer figure.

Caga Tio

In Catalonia and neighboring parts of Spain, the Yule log tradition has taken on rather scatological connotations.  It is called Caga Tio, or “Shitting log,” and consists of a hollowed out log about 30 cm in length.  The log is propped up with two legs, tripod style, with the high end painted with a smiling face and embellished with a three dimensional nose.  The Caga Tio is complete with a hat with a little red sock hat and a blanket to keep it warm.  

Beginning with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, on December 8th, one begins to “feed” the Caga Tio a little bit each night until Christmas Day.  On Christmas Day one puts the back end of the Caga Tio into the fireplace and orders it to defecate.  To make it defecate one beats the Caga Tio with a stick while singing songs about the Caga Tio.  The Caga Tio begins to drop candy, nuts, and other small items, whatever was secretly placed into mouth of the log during the preceding days.  When there is nothing left to “shit,” the Caga Tio usually drops a salted herring, a head of garlic, or an onion.  It may also “urinate” a bowl of water.  The gifts left behind by Caga Tio tend to be smaller gifts.  Larger gifts are delivered by the Three Wise Men.

A Lady Gaga Caganer

El Caganer 

El Caganer means “The Shitter” in Catalonia.  It is a tradition dating back to the 17th century and is found in Catalonia, neighboring parts of Spain and France, Portugal, and parts of Southern Italy around the city of Naples.  El Caganer is a small figurine of someone with their pants dropped and shitting, which is then hidden in the Christmas Nativity scene.  Traditionally the figurine is depicted as a peasant wearing the Catalan red cap or “barretina.”  In the region where El Caganer is common, the Nativity scene doesn’t just include the manger scene, but rather the entire town of Bethlehem, with outlaying scenes which might include a washerwoman by a river, a woman spinning, shepherds tending their sheep or walking towards the manger bearing gifts, the Three Wise Men approaching on horseback, an annunciation scene with an angel, etc.  But sometime during the Baroque period in 1600’s, El Caganer was introduced.  

Some people have interpreted El Caganer’s presence to mean that he represents equality among all people.  Regardless of status, race, or gender, everyone shits.  It might also suggest the idea that God will manifest Himself whenever He is ready, without regard for whether we human beings are ready or not.  Others have thought El Caganer reinforces the belief that the Jesus is God in human form, with all that being human implies.  Of course it may also just be that we are reading too much into it, and the original Caganer was a sick prank.  Many modern Caganers represent celebrities and authority figures, such as clergy, royalty, pop stars, and politicians.  By representing them with their pants down, El Caganer serves as a device to bring the high and mighty down to our level.  

You can print out the image below and make your own Caganer!