If Santa Claus has never visited my home, where do the presents come from at Christmas? Many homes have Christmas trees, in Catalonia we have a wood log we beat up until we have what we want: presents!
25th of December in Catalonia and some territories nearby, east of Spain mainly, the tradition says that you’ll have to burn the biggest wood log you have: it is a very long night and you need to be kept warm. Nowadays most people don’t have a fireplace, we live in flats and have a heating system at home but the tradition of EL TIÓ continues.
What is EL TIÓ?
Well, it is the name of the log. Sure, of course he has a name! El TIÓ needs to be fed, kept in the warmest part of the house and be covered with a blanket. He is a very shy log so he will only eat at night, when it’s dark and everyone is asleep: we give him biscuits and milk, or mandarins and nuts and sometimes a glass of some liquor! He likes fancy things: the better you treat him the better will he serve at his purpose. Which is what exactly, you wonder. To give us presents!
Usually we start feeding him a week before Christmas day, more or less by the same time every family prepares the nativity scene at home. You don’t need to be particularly catholic to do this, even if, obviously, most of this holiday celebration origins are in the catholic tradition, it is quite mixt up with other non so catholic like previous pagan rituals related to the winter solstice. Many other Christmas traditions have wood (as a symbolic representation the goods nature produces) that give presents. Ring a bell? The Christmas tree is the most famous one.
EL TIÓ poops the presents
So, going back to my favourite night of this holidays: how does EL TIÓ give us presents? As we feed him well, he will poop the presents for us. Indeed! he poops presents.
The ritual goes like this: all kids and no so kids around El TIÓ, which is covered with the blanket, sing a song to him at the same time he gets hit with a stick at the rhythm of the song (poor thing, you might think); the song lyrics say that he has to give us sweets (nugat) and if he doesn’t have them he can give us money or eventually if he has finished with the “pooping” of the presents he can give us an egg.
After the first song the children go hide because EL TIÓ need his intimacy to do his thing, while the children is hiding they can also sing another song, and at some point, at least in my family, some grown up comes were the kids are hiding and starts shouting, “it has farted, it smells, we can get out of our hiding” and we repeat the song and the hitting, and finally we open the blanket and there are the presents right underneath the friendly wood log EL TIÓ. We repeat this until he finally gives only one egg.
Usually the presents given away by EL TIÓ are small things, apart from the typical christmas sweets and desserts, socks, scarfs, little games for the youngests of the family, but never big presents, those come later, on the 6th of January, with the Three Wise Men.
December 24th or 26th are also celebration days and most families have dinner or lunch together, like one day with one side of the family and the other day with the other side, so everyone is happy!
December fools day and eating grapes
On the 28th it’s the day of the SANTOS INOCENTES, like April’s fool but we don’t do it in April in Spain, we do it in December.
On the 31th at midnight we eat 12 grapes, one for each bell (this isn’t an ancient tradition actually; it was late 19th century after a year that the grape harvest was way too generous someone had this brilliant idea, but now if you don’t eat them all you will not have a good year. Maybe too many people did not eat the 12 grapes this 2020?
Ephiphany, the three wise men arrive
Last but not least the most magical night for spanish children is without doubt the Epiphany: celebrating the day the Three Wise Men arrived in Betlem: January 5th at sunset every town in Spain welcomes Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar with a parade and they come bringing gifts. For which kids have to go to sleep super early so they have time to deliver the presents to every home in Spain. Waking up on the 6th January is the excitement of the year!
Oh! And I forgot one of the most weird traditions we have in Catalonia: EL CAGANER, the “shitter”, that’s how it is translated, no offence intended. It is indeed a little figure of a shepherd minding his own business, but where? in the Nativity scene! This tradition started somewhere in the 1700 but some say it comes from the 1600, when it was trendy that people would like to represent the Christmas nativity scene so very realistically, that obviously a guy doing his most private business could not be missing. Nowadays there is a company that makes collection figures of El Caganer: check it out!