Christmas around the world is weird. But in Passport’s home of Barcelona, the Catalan people have maybe the strangest festive tradition of all. Forget Santa. This week, we’re meeting a tree log named Caga Tio. The Poo Log.
Traditions are weird, almost by definition. But where do they come from? In this week’s special Xmas episode of Passport, Neil and Andrés talk to Sergi Del Bas and historian Dani Cortijo about one of the most misunderstood regions of Spain. Catalonia. Or as the locals call it Cataluya. This is Spain, but it is very much not Spain.
And here in Catalunya, there exists what is perhaps one of the strangest Christmas traditions in the entire world. There is no Santa here. Here Xmas involves a log. About two ft long. With a face. Named Caga Tio. The Sh!t Log.
This week, Neil and Dre take you home for the holidays to put on your scatological detective hats and try to figure out how the personality of a culture created one of the most incredible symbols of the festive season in the world; A log, with a face, that you beat with sticks to encourage him to poop gifts.
MORE TO EXPLORE
- Get your very own Caganer!
NEIL’S CAGA TIO!
More Tios & Caganers!
5 Spots in Spain best experienced in winter.
This ancient mountain range between Barcelona and Girona is full of beautiful spots. Pools, rivers and waterfalls abound… Walking, Camping, Tiny towns scattered all through the range. Montseny is a beautiful place to visit anytime of year and you may even find a few Tios…
- LA FAGEDA D’EN JORDA
A Fairy Tale Forrest if ever you saw one… this beech tree woodland in La Garrotxa has inspired painters and poets. Perfectly green in the summer and deep dark orange in Autumn. It’s a photographers dream with great trails and a dairy.
A picturesque mountain town in the province of Girona which specialises in xmas trees. There’s also an 11th century romanesque church. Warm in the summer and a snowy winter wonderland at Xmas.
- MERCAT DE SANTA LLUCIA
In the centre of Barcelona outside the city’s cathedral this xmas market is a blast. You’ll find trees, tios, caganers, turron and sweets and pastries… and throughout the year a glorious bustling square for people watching…
The city to the south of Barcelona and ex Roman Capital, was once the richest city in the country. The Roman ruins there are a UNESCO world heritage site. Grab a hot chocolate and some churros and head down the Rambla Nova to see the ocean from El Balco del mediterrani. If you want to splash out there are 4 Michelin Star restaurants packed into this little city center.
This episode of Passport was written and produced by Neil Innes and Andrés Bartos.
Huge thanks to Sergi Del Bass and Dani Cortijo for talking with us. Thanks to the amazing Aisha Prigann, Our friends Roger, Mariona, Elian, Adaia, Mireia, Nuria, Oriol, everyone from Vilallonga Del Camp for your messages. And to Meri and Greta.
Check out our show notes for more info on these awesome Xmassy people.
Our theme music as always is by our musical elf Nick Turner.
The show is mixed and mastered by Julian Kwasneski.
Eliza Engel is our Production Assistant.
Stacey Book, Dominique Ferrari, and Avi Glijansky are Xmas 365 days a year, they also executive produce the show
Which is hosted by Neil Innes and a man who can only poop if he’s being sung to and hit with a stick, Andrés Bartos.
We’ll see you in the next place!
EPISODE 34 – TRANSCRIPT
ANDRÉS: Hey guys, a quick note up top. This episode of Passport is all about Christmas, but it does feature a lot of talk about poo. It’s kind of what makes this one special. So Merry Christmas, everyone.
[PASSPORT MAIN TITLE]
ANDRÉS: A destination isn’t always a place.
NEIL: Sometimes it’s a new way of seeing things.
I’m Neil Innes
ANDRÉS: And I’m Andrés Bartos.
NEIL: From Frequency Machine, this is Passport.
ANDRÉS: Your ticket to everywhere.
[END MAIN TITLE]
ANDRÉS: Christmas around the world is weird.
NEIL: In December in Austria, hordes of people in ghoulish masks called Krampus stalk the streets looking for bad kids.
ANDRÉS: In Greece, the Kallikantzaros, evil goblins, come up from the ground to chop down a giant tree and to terrorize homes .
NEIL: in Iceland, the Yule Cat will eat you if you’re not dressed well.
ANDRÉS: In Sweden, most of the country tunes in at 3:00 PM to watch the same 1958 Donald Duck cartoon every year
NEIL: In Latvia, hoards of masked figures visit houses to drive away evil spirits with folk songs.
ANDRÉS: Ukrainian Christmas is all about spiders
NEIL: In Caracas, Venezuela, it is tradition to roller skate to mass on Christmas day.
ANDRÉS: Even our own Christmas, when you really think about it, it’s just madness.
NEIL: A potential drunk overworked fat man dressed in red and white with a beard, driven on a flying sled by reindeers, who lives in the North Pole with an army of elves, delivers presents in the middle of the night down chimneys.
ANDRÉS: Here in Barcelona, Catalunya, Spain, where we make this show, well, there’s maybe the strangest festive tradition of all. There’s no Santa here.
Here, Christmas involves a log about two feet long with a face named Caga Tio. The shit log.
NEIL: Today on Passport, we take you home for the holidays to do a little scatalogical detective work, to meet the shit log and to try and figure out where the hell it comes from.
ANDRÉS: Welcome to one of the most surprising Christmases in the world.
ANDRÉS: Barcelona sits on the northeast coast of Spain on the Mediterranean Sea.
Las Ramblas, Camp Nou, La Sagrada Familia, La Boqueria, Park Güell, Barceloneta, Gaudi, Dali, Miro. Barcelona is a town full of life, music, food, art, history and tradition.
NEIL: It’s also incredibly misunderstood.
I’ve lived here for nearly 10 years and Andrés has lived here for nearly 20. We make Passport here. This is our home. It’s the sixth most visited city in Europe and the 16th most visited in the world, which for a town,which only covers 40 square miles and with a population of one and a half million, it’s sometimes a strain.
But because of that, it’s filled with people from all over the world who visited and never left, us included.
ANDRÉS: After 30 years here, combined, we can tell you one definitive thing about this area of Spain called Catalunya. Technically, this is Spain, but it is also very not Spain.
There’s an old stereotype which butts against the idea of the warm, open and partying Spaniards. You know, the Javier Bardem, taking you to Oviedo to have a threesome. The people here are a little different.
Catalans, they’re hard to get to know. But once you do, you have a friend forever.
SERGI: Yeah, that is, I’ve heard that many times. And, uh, I think it has to do with, as with any sensitive person, for example, it takes one a long time to get to know that person, but once you’ve gained the heart of that person, you more likely will be friends for a long time.
So I think Catalan culture is like that.
NEIL: This is our Catalan forever friend. The Barcelona born, velvet voiced, Sergi Del Bass. He’s a marketing manager and beer enthusiast and brewer.
ANDRÉS: And for all of you listening, he’s taken.
SERGI: Catalan culture is so small that it sort of gets, you know, like the little brother that sort of, you know, and he’s surrounded by a huge culture, like Spanish culture, France, Italy,
NEIL: Inferiority complex
SERGI: But very agile at the same time, you know, cause being so small and it’s like, you have to make it work somehow.
ANDRÉS: No like Catalans are the smurfs of Spain.
SERGI: That could be said.
NEIL: That’s wonderful
ANDRÉS: And in a sense, the Jews of Spain as well.
SERGI: That was said to me once, and you know, there’s something to that, I have to say, yeah.
ANDRÉS: We grabbed Sergi to come down to the studio because we wanted to chat with him about Christmas.
We want to lay out just what’s going on here. But first, before we get to that weirdness, we need to look a little bit at what’s behind this weirdness.
NEIL: Catalunya has its own language. It’s own personality, it’s own sense of humor, it has its own identity.
ANDRÉS: The food here is wonderful. Fresh seafood, incredible barbecue, calcots, which are long onions burned and stripped to be eaten with a heavy romesco sauce. Sunny Paellas along the beautiful coastline are a way of life, though the Catalan’s might prefer to munch down a giant fideua on a lazy sunday. That’s paella rice replaced with short thin pasta and lathered with aioli, a garlic mayonnaise which could kill you in the best possible sense.
NEIL: The geography of this region is so varied. It has the Pyrenees to the north, blistering sandy beaches to the south, forests and deltas. It’s unbearably hot in the summer and freezing in the winter.
This place is full of beautiful contradictions, including the ones inherent in the people who live here.
SERGI: Catalan culture is so uptight in many ways, because of the influence from Catholic culture and all that.
SERGIE: And so, um, formal sometimes that people need to explode somewhere.
ANDRÉS: Catalans are calm, reserved, measured, quiet. Then a second later, insane, mad, full on crazy. They’re protesting in the morning and napping in the afternoon. They are fastidious too.
SERGI: There’s an expression in Catalan. Kay algooi vol algooli costa. If you want something it will cost you something. Very mercantile approach to things.
NEIL: There is a yin and yang to Catalans and it has a name. Seny I Rauxa.
SERGI: Seny is, some people have translated it as common sense.
SERGI: But common sense is difficult to define. So seny means very rational,
SERGI: …very ordered, and then rauxa is like a party, crazy, you know, so it’s the ying and yang, I guess, you know, the two, the two, um, the two forces that, you know, underline, you know, all life I guess, I don’t know.
ANDRÉS: The cliche of the mediteranian personality isn’t fully true here. Sure, you’ll find wild shifts, passion amongst staunch faces. There’s incredible parties and grumpy neighbors, but on a whole, the Catalan culture is pretty leveled.
NEIL: They don’t like big shots. They don’t like posturing.
They don’t like you if you’re pretending to be something you are not. The ideal here is an ideal of everyone being the same.
[Sergi speaking in different language]
ANDRÉS: Hey, there you go. Who does he think he is?
SERGI: Yes, exactly. You know, all in this together. There’s a little bit of, you know, that let’s take La Sardana, for example, it is, you can include everybody.
ANDRÉS: So La Sardana, it’s a public dance. It’s almost like Morris dancing or line dancing, or lord of the dance dancing. A circle of people, no matter the age or standing, which is used as a celebration of community, togetherness and solidarity.
SERGI: It’s amazing because it is an expression of an underlying culture and certain values, you know, which is we’re all in this together. Means we’re holding hands together. It’s castillos.
ANDRÉS: That was the next place I was going to go. Yeah, the castles.
Human castles. Las castells. It’s another huge part of Catalan culture. To see it live is astounding. The Castillers, along with flamenco, are UNESCO declared masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity. That’s a real thing.
Spain has more listed UNESCO masterpieces per capita than anywhere else in the world.
NEIL: Picture a beautiful square in Catalunya. Now picture hundreds of people having human pyramid competition, all dressed in different bright colors. They mingle together, but then gather in their teams and they push into a circle to make a base, a pina.
Hundreds of people. Then, they climb up on top to form a circle on the backs of others. Eight people, six people, four people, four more, three more, two more, one more. These human pyramids are six, seven, eight, nine stories high.
ANDRÉS: And then a child of about seven years climbs to the top for the final layer, wearing a crash helmet.
Because sometimes these castles collapse.
SERGI: As an expression of the culture, I think it’s very interesting. And if you allow me to go back to your interest in, it’s only you, but the interest in the
ANDRÉS: in the art of pooping?
SERGI: Yeah. Al cagar.
ANDRÉS: We are skirting around the poop.
SERGI: One thing is community.
SERGI: But also then the pressure that culture infusing that community and that comes out
ANDRÉS: the in and the out, I like that.
NEIL: This is already getting very poopy.
ANDRÉS: I know. This is, we’re getting to a place that’s very interesting. Hmm. Skirting around the poo. That’s not like us. So let’s do this.
NEIL: The Catalans are a pretty scatalogical society. They’re into poop. They swear a lot. And a lot of the swearing is blasphemous. And a lot of the time, it’s about shitting.
SERGI: I don’t know where that stems from though. I don’t know if it was the farmers. I have no idea, but I would say that it’s not just in Catalunya. It’s the rest of, the rest of Spain also has a rich culture.
So there’s something about the quality of the sound also
ANDRÉS: The musicality.
ANDRÉS: It’s like a little ride, a little amusement park ride.
SERGI: Yeah, exactly.
NEIL: A lonely barbershop quartet.
SERGI: Violins and trumpets
NEIL: In Catalan, a lot of shit or merda can signify many, many things. It’s their most versatile swear word. It can mean that you’re scared or sad. You can be shit happy, shit dirty, shit rich. You can also be shit lucky.
SERGI: Well, molta merda, that’s used in theater, can actually mean a lot of luck.
And actually I happen to know the origin, which is before cars, horses would drive the carriages. So a lot of shit meant a lot of people have come to see you. So molta merda is like people came to the show, so it was, it was a success.
NEIL: Christmas in Catalunya is pretty unique. No turkey, no stuffing, no Santa Claus, no mistletoe, no Christmas tree.
ANDRÉS: Like how do you, what’s your relationship to Christmas? Are you a Christmas guy?
SERGI: I’m a family guy. Meaning I like being with my family a lot.
SERGI: So Christmas means that you’re getting to see your family. You know, I’m pretty sure a lot of people feel like that.
ANDRÉS: So nothing out of the ordinary there, but this is where the real weirdness begins.
It begins with a percebra, the nativity scene.
SERGI: The big thing for me was the percebra, the nativity. That was the, that was the, the, the big project.
I still have a clear, clear memory of the first of the percebra my, my parents and you would build, um, the nativity. You put some paper, uh, as the sky
ANDRÉS: to make like a blue sky
SERGI: They put a bridge, I don’t know why
ANDRÉS: There was always a bridge, yeah
SERGI: and there was a river with aluminum foil.
ANDRÉS: Silent night
SERGI: And then you put the three wise men, the three Kings, los tres reys.
SERGI: But the, the last one, the most important element was el caganer. Description of el caganer:, physically, el caganer is a peasant taking a shit.
NEIL: Let pooping Christmas begin.
ANDRÉS: El caganer. Literally the shitter. You’ll find him in every single nativity scene in Catalunya, even public ones. With the son of god sleeping in a manger upstaged every year by a man taking a number two. Usually dressed in the traditional Catalan outfit with shirt, black pants, red hat, the beretina.
NEIL: You can even buy your own, of course.
Each year the city is filled with stores selling Caganers. And each year there are new ones to collect. This year, new arrivals are little ceramic versions of your favorite celebrities and politicians taking a crap. In 2020, these include Joe Biden, Greta Thunberg, Pennywise the clown. There are also whole packs of little pooping figurines. The Simpsons, Game of Thrones, The Xmen, all squatting with their pants around their ankles caught in the very human act.
But what does it mean?
SERGI: I never questioned it. The huge thing was like when I would go to my cousins or whatever, it was to find el caganer like, where did you put him?
ANDRÉS: So it’s like Where’s Waldo.
SERGI: Exactly. Where’s el caganer, which is a great book. We should, we should actually…
SERGI: But that was the big one. So the funny thing is that I would always, we would always put it behind the stable.
SERGI: You know, you, you hid it a little bit.
ANDRÉS: Right. So that Jesus didn’t have to see this dude taking a shit.
SERGI: I never questioned what it symbolized or what it meant.
SERGI: I’m just realizing now, as I speak with you guys, but sometime after 92, after the Olympics, Catalan culture opened up to the rest of the world, the rest of the world started paying attention.
And then, you know, when somebody from abroad pays attention to you, they realize there’s things that are not, I wouldn’t say normal because the word normal is very…
NEIL: the curtain has been pulled back suddenly
SERGI: They’re not usual, not used in the rest of cultures.
SERGI: So, around sometime when I was 20 something, somebody was like… taking a shit, you know, like, oh, that’s right. Um, and somebody pay attention to it. And then somebody said, I know where it comes from.
And I think it comes from the tension in the culture. So a lot of people don’t believe the gospel in Catalan culture, you know, so.
Meaning like we don’t agree with it, so we’re going to put a little guy, peasant, again connected to agrarian culture, taking a shit right next to
ANDRÉS: to this whole holy scene. Let’s put a little bit of, let’s take this Jesus guy a little level down.
NEIL: Jesus is just being born. He’s just there with his pants around his ankle squatting doing what looks like a kind of a perfect cartoon comic book shit.
ANDRÉS: Perfect curl. I have never been…
SERGI: It’s perfection. It is perfection.
ANDRÉS: You know when you go to McDonald’s and you get like a
NEIL: A soft serve
ANDRÉS: a soft, yeah, but in poop.
SERGI: Brilliantly described.
ANDRÉS: Thank you.
NEIL: The “we’re all the same” aspect to Catalan culture is pretty striking. Could it be that the Caganer is a representation of this? Is pooping the ultimate leveler?
SERGI: Barack Obama has a caganer. Lady Gaga has a caganer
NEIL: Lady Caga
ANDRÉS: Nailed it. Nailed it. Lady Caga
NEIL: Lady Caga
SERGI: I’’m pretty sure Messi has one.
ANDRÉS: Messi has a messy one.
SERGI: All right, there you go. So, um, I think it, it is, I’m realizing now that is a good connection with like, all right, everybody shits.
NEIL: Don’t pretend like you don’t shit like woohoo, big whoop. You’re the son of God.
ANDRÉS: You’re going to be, once you have that
NEIL: You’re still going to be shitting behind a barn.
And if, if there’s some way to wrangle any meaning out of, uh, being connected to the earth or being, you know, it being like a protest in someway or being kind of like a cultural thing… I think this is like as basic as it gets.
ANDRÉS: Well it’s that old trope, right? Like, you’re going to go to a job interview or you’re going to meet, you know, the queen of England.
So you don’t get nervous, what do you do? Just imagine her taking a shit
SERGI: There’s this saying, which is a Spanish saying, which is caga el rey, caga el papa, de cagar nadie escapa
ANDRÉS: The King shits, the Pope shits. Nobody escapes taking a shit.
NEIL: Everybody poops.
NEIL: After the break, the moment you’ve all been waiting for, we meet the Caga Tio. We enlist our friends, we put on our detective hats and we try and work this mystery out. We’ll see you in a sec.
ANDRÉS: Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring except for el Caga Tio. El tio is maybe the most magical and scatalogical part of Catalan Christmas.
NEIL: You see, the 25th of December is a holiday here, but it’s not the holiday. In all of Spain, that’s the 5th of January, the 12th night of Christmas.
That’s when the Three Kings bring children their gifts. But here, in Catalunya on Christmas, it’s all about the Caga Tio.
ANDRÉS: So tio means log. Caga means shit. We’re finally here, the moment you’ve all been waiting for, ladies and gentlemen, we give you the shitting log of Christmas.
ANDRÉS: I just hear like the bell, like Christmas bells, clang, clang, clang.
SERGI: It is a wood, a wooden log.
SERGI: With eyes and mouth and everything.
SERGI: And even, uh, uh, a nose.
NEIL: The central piece of a tree, the trunk, a log, about two foot long as round as a dinner plate with two legs of wood to prop him up. A wide eyed, smiling face, a peg for a nose and a traditional red cap. It’s very sweet and utterly terrifying.
ANDRÉS: Around two weeks before Christmas day, families head into the woods near their homes to find their Tio.
The story goes that tios wander from the mountains, starving, lost, and cold to find warmth and food in their new Christmas home.
SERGI: We put a blanket on top of it. My cousin would give him lentils.
ANDRÉS: So like they would make lentils in the house and leave this late of lentils in front of the
SERGI: Not so elaborated. My, my uncle would just leave the raw lentils
ANDRÉS: Raw lentils in front of a log
SERGI: And then we were so little, like, oh, they’re all gone, el tio ate them. Obviously it was my uncle removing the lentils from in front of the, the tio.
NEIL: Over the weeks in the lead up to Christmas, you feed your Tio, a lot. Nuts, lentils, oranges.
He’s a hungry boy. And then as Christmas day approaches, the Tio himself gets ready for the worst day this life.
SERGI: But the point was my uncle would say, oh, he’s been eating a lot. Get ready because he’s going to shit a lot of things, you know.
ANDRÉS: it is a magical shitty log. For anyone listening, what we’re describing is magical shitting log.
This is what’s happening right now.
NEIL: On Christmas.
ANDRÉS: The family gathers around the Tio, his little happy face looking up at them, seemingly oblivious to what’s coming.
SERGI: And right after dinner, we put the Tio, the shitting log, in the middle of the living room covered with a blanket. And then we grab the stick, everybody, my cousins and my brother and my sister, everybody would have their own stick.
So, and then we would sing songs. So the trick was like, you need, you needed to sing really loud so that the Tio would get inspired to take a big shit.
NEIL: That always helps me.
ANDRÉS: When people sing at me, it really helps me relax.
SERGI: We would count to three. And we would sing caga tio…
SERGI: So Tio please, take a shit…
ANDRÉS: if you don’t want to take a shit,
SERGI: I’m going to hit you with my stick
NEIL: threatening it is.
SERGI: I need more friendly.
ANDRÉS: It is like the sight of a group of whatever, like a, uh, a herd of children
NEIL: A herd of kids just like hitting a lot, like the homeless guy at the beginning of Clockwork Orange.
ANDRÉS: Yeah, exactly. Like, but very cute, in a very cute way.
NEIL: There is something that speaks to the Catalan sense of humor, something that Sergi told us earlier on in the show.
If you want something, you have to give something. You never get a smile for free. You have to earn it.
ANDRÉS: So is taking care of this pet log and the lead up to Christmas teaching children about care? About love?
NEIL: It’s like nursing an injured thing back to health so it gives you a reward and… it’s like, it’s like misery with Kathy Bates and James Caan, a Christmas misery. You rescue an author from the woods.
SERGI: All right.
NEIL: Take care of him. And then you beat him until he gives you presents.
ANDRÉS: I do hope we have like jingle bells in the back of this section.
NEIL: You’ve been a dirty bird.
ANDRÉS: Where do you source your logs?
SERGI: That’s a great question. That’s a funny thing. My uncle had it and we’re still using that log to this day. The log is like fifty years old.
ANDRÉS: Get the fuck out of here.
SERGI: I’m serious.
ANDRÉS: You don’t like switch up your logs? So this is log has like, it has years of abuse,
SERGI: No retirement,
NEIL: So you repaint the smile on its face?
SERGI: No retirement for Tio. Well he gets to rest the rest of the year, you know.
NEIL: That’s true.
SERGI: He’s got it worse for one night of the year. That’s not a bad gig.
SERGI: We humans love playing I guess. You know, it might sound absurd for a lot of people not familiar with it, but again, you know, there’s so many things that are absurd.
NEIL: There are so many.
Sergi had laid the groundwork and me and Andrés, now self-proclaimed scatological detectives, started to think about how we could figure out the magic craziness of the Tio.
I have a four year old little girl at home and I thought I’d start with her. Surely she would know all about the magic of the Tio.
GRETA: Why that’s that color, Papa?
NEIL: Because it’s recording.
GRETA: Oh, why?
NEIL: Because I wanted to ask you about the Tio.
GRETA: It looks like a branch, Papa
NEIL: Like a branch?
GRETA: Yeah, but he doesn’t got four feet, like a cat.
NEIL: Like a cat.
GRETA: He’s like a cat.
NEIL: And what are we going to do with him?
GRETA: We’ll put him on cause he’s got to eat.
NEIL: and what do we have to put a blanket on him for?
GRETA: For he can not be cold.
NEIL: Do you like, do you like the Tio?
GRETA: Yeah, I do. He comes from the mountains.
NEIL: Like she always does, she cut our interview short. Kids weren’t going to be helpful here.
ANDRÉS: So left with no choice, we set up a WhatsApp group of all our Catalan friends and honorary Catalan friends, because we wanted to get their take on why the pooping log and the pooping figure exist. If anybody knows.
NEIL: Hi you’ve reached Neil and Andrés at Passport. This is our Christmas special voice message hotline. We want to know what you think the Caga Tio means. What does it mean to you? Why all the pooping, Catalans? Let us know your thoughts for this Passport Christmas special. Thanks.
[Phone beeps for voicemail]
WOMAN: So the other day, my friend Alyssa and I were going for a walk in the park and we came across these three children and they were feeding pieces of tangerine to their Caga Tio.
And we thought it was the cutest thing and we laughed in delight or so we thought, but that’s not how the kids took it. And within seconds there were swarming around us demanding to know why we were laughing at them and their Tio. What was so funny about their Tio? They said your Tio is only going to shit shit.
You’re not going to get any presents. He’s just going to shit shit.
[Phone beeps for voicemail]
WOMAN: The truth is that I had never considered that our traditions were weird, but maybe from the outside people, it seems that we like shit a lot. It’s possible.
MAN: To be honest, I don’t know either the origins of Tio.
WOMAN: I honestly have no idea of this historical origin, a piece of wood with face, with a happy face.
MAN: Every Christmas time, well, actually before Christmas time, we went to the countryside to look for the Tio.
WOMAN: My parents would tell us that he came from the mountain, that he was very thirsty. He was hungry. So we have to take care of him, give him clementines, food and cuddles and talking to him.
MAN: Every night before going to the bed, I check if he was warm and comfortable.
WOMAN: When you’re a child, you love your Tio as one more member of your family.
MAN: Then, the 25 during the morning, we hit him with a stick.
WOMAN: A piece of wood that when the children hit him with a stick, he pops, but it’s not a nasty shit like yours or mine. No, no, it’s like a nice gift.
WOMAN: And that time there was a president. I mean, if that year you had been good, you will have a little toy. And that was the most amazing thing ever.
WOMAN: He said, thank you by pooping candies. And nowadays I’m already grown up. The only option possible to poop is underwear. So when Caga Tio comes, I already know that my underwear will be renewed.
MAN: Children learn that if you take care of something, we are going to love it.
WOMAN: It’s really, really, really amazing. It’s something that you can’t explain.
[Phone beeps for voicemail]
WOMAN: I know it’s crazy. A piece of wood that comes walking from the woods. You fed him clementines and he shits sweets. It’s crazy. But I remember also thinking that that fat man called Santa Claus, that’s also weird.
He’s always clean with that beautiful red coat with white fur. And he goes through chimneys? I mean, that’s not possible. It has no sense. According to Mary Poppins and I really believe in her, Santa Claus should be dirty as hell if he goes through a chimney to give presents. He was like that fat man, no I’d rather believe in my luck. He’s here with me. I really, I believe in him.
[Phone beeps for voicemail]
NEIL: Sometimes with tradition, these things are just done because they’re done. We were surprised that there wasn’t a lot of questioning going on about why.
ANDRÉS: Neil tried to find a historian. A learned person with perfect credentials and a deep, expansive education on the history of Catalunya who we could coax into talking about poop for an hour.
We had to get to the bottom of this.
NEIL You mother [censor beep]
Luckily, I’d found a historian and luckily still, he was into it. But you have the Tio right now in your house?
DANI: Yeah. Yeah. Eating mandarins to shit presents.
ANDRÉS: This is Dani Cortijo. He’s a Catalan award-winning writer and historian. His blog altresbarcelones.com is filled with crazy insightful tales about Barcelona.
NEIL: It felt weird talking to such a smart guy about the most human function, but here we are.
DANI: Scatalogy is linked with Catalan culture since lots of years ago. And for example, in the 19th century, we have a scatalogic literature in Barcelona, all about shit and, but El Caganer, for example, it’s not funny.
ANDRÉS: All right. So what is the Caganer?
DANI: Historically, El Caganer is a symbol of the fertilization of the fields for the next season. For the, the end of, of winter and the beginning of the spring.
ANDRÉS: We got the feeling that Dani was our guy. One down, one to go.
DANI: The Christmas log or Tio, actually Tio is the name of a big trunk.
It was the first big trunk that people take from the, from the woods to warm the house. Okay, it was like the celebration of the winter and it was a symbol of, of energy without electricity or gas. It was the symbol of, of the forming of the family. It was the beginning of the Tio.
And then, uh, start this tradition of kick the Tio, uh, to the shit food. It varies scatalogy, but I think during the 19th century maybe, it evolves to this strange thing.
Originally, Tio was only shitting, um, the food of Christmas, not presents. And I think Tio, uh, start shitting presents because of Santa Claus.
NEIL: There’s a bit of competition.
NEIL: But why the hitting? We asked Dani and his answer was really wonderful.
DANI: Barcelona in the 19th century was a very, very, very violent city. It was very crazy. And now we have, we present this tradition. And all the rest of the year, we say that we cannot use violence to, to have our goals.
NEIL: Wow. It’s like, it’s like the Purge.
NEIL: This sentiment was something we hadn’t expected or heard before. That hitting the Tio was originally the only time of the year that you were allowed to use violence to get what you wanted. It was a really nice twist on what we imagined the Tio to be. What he stood for on his own two stumpy legs.
ANDRÉS: We found out more too, thanks to Dani. It turns out the yule log, as it was once known in many parts of Europe was the first tree cut down to warm the family home over the holidays. Nowadays, it only exists as a YouTube screen saver crackling away on your television or a dessert.
But originally, family members would fill it with messages, notes, wishes for the coming year. It was also a blessing for a good harvest. The coals would be kept and it would be used to light the log again next year
NEIL: The log is a symbol of renewed luck and life. Exactly how the Yule log turned into the Tio seems to be an amalgamation of Catalan social tropes, the competing popularity of Santa Claus in the 19th century, the need for presents on Christmas day in a culture which usually gets them 12 days later and their love of a good poop.
SERGI: My little kid is three years old so now I have an internal dialogue with like, should I do this, should we not. Because I remember the excitement that I felt, you know.
ANDRÉS: Yeah, me too.
NEIL: Because I love stories and I love like storytelling and I love watching her like light, light up. You do it because it’s such a, it’s just such a happy thing to kind of watch.
NEIL: Like it’s like telling someone a joke.
SERGI: No, I agree. I agree. I’m just realizing, talking to you guys, the importance of rituals and stuff like that.
SERGI: It’s pretty amazing.
ANDRÉS: I mean, it’s yeah. It’s again, it’s like we came here in here to talk about shit. And we’ve ended up at this place which is actually really Christmasy. The excitement and the magic of the season.
SERGI: As strange as it may look to you guys, I’m so connected with this tradition that I’m just realizing that even if I lived somewhere else with my little one, I’d do that. It’s, it’s a tradition for me,
SERGI: Worth keeping, worth spreading.
NEIL: So, loaded up with everything that Christmas means here, thanks to Sergi and Dani, and with as much knowledge as we could gather about what the Caga Tio actually meant, I hid ours in the woods above Barcelona, near my daughter’s school. And for the first time she and I went searching for him.
So when I was walking here, I found something in the woods and he needs our help.
GRETA: Papa, you need to see it.
NEIL: I know where it is. I know where it is. Come on, you got to follow me.
GRETA: Let’s go, Papa. But where’s the Tio? Where is he hiding? Papa, where is he hiding?
NEIL: I don’t know, we’re going to have to find out.
GRETA: Alright, let’s go running maybe down. I
GRETA: Where? Where? He’s a little Tio.
NEIL: Yeah! Oh no.
GRETA: Oh, he’s hurt maybe.
NEIL: You think he’s hurt?
NEIL: Should we take him? You want to pick him up?
GRETA: Yeah, let’s pick him up.
He’s sleeping. He’s sleeping like that.
NEIL: Okay. Let’s take him home baby.
GRETA: Such a little baby Tio.
ANDRÉS: Traditions are weird. They kind of have to be by definition. These rituals that persist long enough in one culture to stand the test of time are always a little skewed, altered. The fun remains and the origins are often forgotten.
NEIL: Santa Claus, Saint Nick. He was a third century monk from Turkey who gave away everything he owned to help the sick and the needy. It was the Dutch who brought Santa Claus to America in the mid to late 1700s. He was called sinterklaas and he gave presents on the 5th of December.
ANDRÉS: It was writer and historian Washington Irving who helped put Santa Claus out there for real when he referred to him as the Patron Saint of New York in his book about the big apple.
NEIL: By the end of the 19th century, the Salvation Army took the image of Santa, now dressed in red, and used him to gather donations from meals for the poor on Christmas day.
ANDRÉS: Clement,Clarke Moore, an Episcopal minister invented the rest of the Santa you know and love in his poem The Night Before Christmas… you know, the sled, the reindeers, the elves, and the chimneys.
NEIL: And what’s weirder? That or an oblivious but happy pooping log? Merry Christmas, everyone.
NEIL: This week’s saved pins are parts of Catalunya which are perfect no matter the time of year, but are especially great at Christmas.
ANDRÉS: Number two is the Montseny. This ancient mountain range between Barcelona and Girona is full of beautiful spots. Pools, rivers, and waterfalls abound. Walking, camping, tiny towns scattered all through the range. Montseny is a beautiful place to visit any time of year. And you might even find a few Tios.
NEIL: Number two, La Fageda d’en Jorda. A fairy tale forrest if ever you saw one… this beech tree woodland in La Garrotxa has inspired painters and poets alike. Perfectly green in the summer and deep dark orange in the autumn. It’s a photographer’s dream with great trails and a dairy.
ANDRÉS: Number two, Espinelves. A picturesque mountain town in the province of Girona which specialises in Christmas trees. There’s also an 11th century romanesque church. Warm in the summer and a snowy winter wonderland at Christmas.
NEIL: Number two, Mercat de santa llucia. In the center of Barcelona, outside the city’s cathedral, this Christmas market is a blast. You find trees, tios, caganers, turron and sweets and pastries. And at other times of the year, it’s a glorious, bustling square for people watching.
ANDRÉS: Number two, Tarragona. The city to the south of Barcelona and ex Roman Capital, was once the richest city in the country. The Roman ruins there are a UNESCO world heritage site. Grab a hot chocolate and some churros and head down the Rambla Nova to see the ocean from El Balco del mediterrani. If you want to splash out, there are 4 Michelin Star restaurants packed into this little city center. This is Barcelona’s little known little brother.
NEIL: That’s it for this week guys. Have an amazing Christmas and holidays.
ANDRÉS: We’ll be back in the new year with clowns, both terrifying and sweet in Paris, sci-fi and music galore in our journey to South Africa to discover an Afrofuturism revolution and to Australia, where we will talk with the locals about the cosmos with a very special Bavarian guest, one Werner Herzog. Yeahhh.
NEIL: In the meantime, hit us up on all social media at passportpod and on Instagram at passportpodcast. Head to frequencymachine.com/passport and look for our Christmas episode. In there, you’ll find a gallery of some of the best Caga Tios we could find. So until next time, until next year…
This episode of Passport was written and produced by myself and Andres Bartos.
Huge thanks to Sergi Del Bass and Dani Cortijo for talking with us. Thanks to the amazing Aisha Prigann, and our friends Roger, Mariona, Elian, Adaia, Mireia, Nuria, Oriol, everyone from Vilallonga Del Camp for your messages. And to my Meri and Greta.
Check out our show notes for more info on these awesome christmassy people.
Our theme music as always is by our musical elf Nick Turner.
The show is mixed and mastered by Julian Kwasneski.
Eliza Engel is our Production Assistant.
Stacey Book, Dominique Ferrari and Avi Glijansky are Christmas 365 days a year, they also executive produce the show.
Which is hosted by me, and a man who can only poop if he’s being sung to and hit with a stick, Andres Bartos.
We’ll see you in the next place!
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