EXCLUSIVE: Pooping Christmas Logs!
A TRIAGE? holiday special, plus a note to the reader
A very exciting holiday post is in store for this week, one which also happens to be a TRIAGE? first: an exclusive Q&A, in which I speak with some good friends about their riveting and unique holiday tradition. I promise it’ll be worth the wait!
Speaking of waits. Even by my own very loose general interpretation of time, I’ve pushed the limits of this newsletter’s description (doozy writing, every week) to extreme lengths over the last two months. I appreciate your patience! Especially because I’ve been working mostly on fiction lately, I’ve had a tricky time balancing how much/what to post here versus trying to submit work to other publications, entering contests, etc. (I’ve also picked up a new odd job, which is very exciting and fulfilling but has required lots of time and effort to get the hang of). I’m figuring my stuff out! Thanks for hanging on and giving me some time to do so. I’ve considered slyly changing the site’s description and hoping no one notices, but I’m going to leave it as is with the confidence that I’ll soon arrive at a sweet spot where I’m able to post here weekly while also working on longer projects and successfully navigating my day job. I’ll get there. Most importantly, I’m still, of course, writing, just in a sort of different way than I was at the start. You’ll see what I mean soon enough.
Last weekend, I took a very long, traffic-filled road trip with my cousin, Ben. Somewhere near Yonkers, Ben told me how much he’s enjoyed reading TRIAGE? in the context of a conversation which reminded him of my Frances Ha piece from the end of the summer. We proceeded to talk about my writing for the next five minutes. This conversation made my day.
I share this anecdote not merely to heap undue praise onto Cousin Ben but to highlight how many similarly constructive conversations I’ve had with so many of you, in person and in writing, since I launched this project in August. I’m immensely grateful for so much this year, but little has given me more satisfaction than these discussions. All I want to do with my working time is to read, write, and discuss reading and writing. The idea that I might be someone to elicit those conversations with my own work is almost too moving to bear. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I am so very grateful for every word you read this year.
Now, without further ado, I’d like to proudly present the first ever TRIAGE? Q&A! I spoke to my friends Olivia and Pol, who met up in Tarragona, Catalonia just for the occasion, over a video call earlier this month to discuss a Catalan holiday tradition which has perplexed me ever since I learned about it. May Caga Tiós fill the living rooms of the world next December after word of this tradition sweeps the globe! Happy holidays, everyone.
This conversation was lightly edited for length and clarity. All photos courtesy of Olivia and friends.
I was traveling with Olivia around Christmastime last year and she wouldn’t stop talking about and showing me photos of a Catalan thing she called “Caga Tió.” I was super weirded out at the time, and still don’t exactly understand what you guys do with this log looking thing around Christmas. She’s sent me lots more photos this year, and I’d like to settle this. What exactly is going on here?
Oli: Every family celebrates it a little bit differently. In my family, what we do is on December 25th we go to my grandfather’s in the morning. All the cousins are there, and somebody rings the doorbell. We all go to the door, and Caga Tió is there. Our parents tell us, “Caga Tió is here from the mountains!” Then you feed him throughout the morning, and then—
You just said that you feed him. You’re going to need to explain that. What even is Caga Tió?
Oli: It’s a log with a face on one of its sides. He’s wearing a barretina (traditional Catalan cap). We don’t really know why he’s wearing the hat.
Pol: It’s associated with farm workers.
Pol: It has two legs.
Oli: Just two legs. I don’t know why.
Pol: It’s kind of sitting down like a dog.
Oli: And that’s it. You just have to feed him. Normally it’s mandarins.
When you’re feeding him—you just said it’s a log with a face on one of its sides. Are you actually peeling the fruit and putting it in its mouth?
Both: No, no, no.
So what do you do?
Pol: In my family it’s a bit different, Tió comes to the door one day early in December, rings the bell, and is there.
So the kids are outside? The Tió just appears?
Oli: No. Somebody rings the doorbell, and you open the door and then he’s there.
Just sitting there?
Oli: Waiting at the door.
Pol: They leave it there and then they hide—
Oli: No, it’s actually the Tió arriving!
Oli: There are some families who actually go to the forest to look for their Tió. I think nowadays it’s a new tradition, you go with your family.
Oli: Yes, there’s businesses that organize this kind of thing.
And then you find a log in the forest and make it into a Tió?
Oli: No, no, no, your Tió is waiting for you in the forest. But this is a new capitalist thing from our generation.
Pol: When we open the door we’re very excited. “Tió’s here, oh my god, oh my god!” We put it somewhere in the living room. We cover it with a blanket.
Oli: We don’t put it in the living room because everyone’s using the living room. For me, it has to be in a quiet room because he needs some space for himself. Because otherwise—
Pol: Wait, wait, wait. We did it in the living room. We covered it with a blanket so it’s warm and comfortable.
Oli: Yes, because he comes from the woods, and it’s so cold!
Pol: And then we leave a plate with fruit, usually mandarins or kiwis, but mainly mandarins.
Pol: Every night we put them there.
Under him or next to him or what?
Pol: No, right in front of him.
Pol: And then when you go back, the mandarins are peeled, half eaten, kiwis eaten–
Oli: In mine, they were not half eaten. They were all eaten. You just had the peels left.
So you leave fruit in front of the Tió at night. And then in the morning the kids go to check the Tió and the fruit is eaten.
Pol: The idea is that he’s eating the fruit so he can make presents.
Oli: You have to feed him a lot of food because the more you feed him, the bigger the presents will be.
Why is it called Tió, by the way?
Pol: Tió just means “log” in Catalan.
Oli: Caga Tió, it means “shitting log.”
Do the kids call it Caga Tió?
Oli: This is actually interesting. There are some people who call it Caga Tió. I am one of them. Then there are other people who get angry because its name isn’t actually Caga Tió. “Caga” is just the action that he’s doing. The whole tradition, including the action, is called Caga Tió. But the name of the log is Tió.
There are little kids running around screaming “Caga Tió, Caga Tió!”?
Pol: Of course.
And just so we’re on the same page, that literally means “shit log, shit log?” It’s just kids screaming “shit, log!”?
Oli: Yes. But I think that Catalans really like shit, because we also have the Caganer—
Pol: The shitting man.
Oli: You know when you put little figures up when Jesus was born?
Oli: Yes. We put a Caganer, a little man shitting, hiding in those. There’s a lot of famous people, like there’s one of Donald Trump taking a shit.
Right! We went to a store which made these in Barcelona.
Oli: Yes. So I think that in Catalonia we really like shitting things.
Okay. You’re feeding the log for all of December. Tió is full and fat and ready to shit.
Pol: Yes. He’s ready.
How does the next part work?
Oli: Each of us gets a stick. We go to a different room, and we warm up the sticks next to the heater. We go rub the sticks around in our hands next to the heater so they spin, it has to be warm. And then once they’re warmed up we go to the room where the Tió is, we sing a song, and we hit the Tió with the sticks. We actually don’t remember this song, but when you finish it, you hit the Tió, take the blanket away, and the presents are there. Actually it’s super easy to see that the presents are there before the song. It’s so obvious.
This is my main question. There’s a very important moment, because Tió is full, he’s ready to shit out presents, you hit him with the stick, but then I’m wondering about the presentation. It seems like it would be very difficult, with everyone already in the room, to just make the presents appear. What is this exact moment like?
(Olivia stands up, finds a blanket, and covers Pol with it)
Oli: Pol is going to be the Tió now. You put the blanket over the Tió, so you just can see the face, but you can’t see what’s in the space under the rest of the blanket. So here, under the Tió, you can put the presents and you can’t see them because they’re hidden under the blanket. But sometimes, the present is so obvious—
It’s so big that it lifts the blanket.
Oli: Yes. So it’s impossible that you cannot see the presents.
And then who removes the blanket for the presents?
Oli: The kids.
How long are you hitting the Tió for? Does someone just say, “He’s ready?”
Pol: It’s when the song finishes. It takes maybe one minute.
How old are you when you transition from somebody who hits the Tió to someone who makes the Tió?
Oli: I think it’s the first time you realize it’s not real. The Tió story is the first thing that you realize is super fake as a kid of all the holiday things. Like, even when you realize that the Tió is your parents, you still maybe think that Santa Claus is real. I was around eight for this moment.
Pol: Around eight, yeah.
Eight years old. So the magic of Tió kind of died for you around then?
Oli: No, it doesn’t die, because even if you know that it’s fake—
Pol: I have smaller cousins who are two and five, and we still do it because of them. We gather all around with the sticks, hit the Tió, sing the song, and then we go to a different room. We usually sing Christmas carols in that room for a few minutes while the parents are hiding the presents, and in that moment when we’re kids we’re all like, “What’s it doing, what’s it shitting?” Then we come back to the room.
Oli: Because you do it several times. It doesn’t just shit once. You go, and then you go back and warm up the stick again, and you go again.
Oli: Yes, because to fit the presents under the Tió you have to do it little by little. In my family we know that the presents are finished because with the last few presents there’s always a plastic shit. But super realistic. The first time I remember seeing the shit, it was surreal. It really looked like it was a real shit. It was amazing. In the following years, when we saw the shit, we knew it was fake, but the first time, not at all. It’s fake, of course, but it’s like he doesn’t have any more presents, and that’s how you know.
This is a normal tradition?
Oli: No, no. This is just my family.
Pol: I never had this shit thing. In my family, when Tió has shat everything out, the last gifts are usually just mandarins or some candy. And then you know he’s done. After that, we cover him completely with the blanket, give him his space, and then suddenly the next day he’s gone, and we’re all like, “Oh my god!” In my family we do maybe three or four rounds. The first and second rounds are with presents. These aren’t the best of the Christmas presents.
Oli: No. They’re little.
Pol: They’re smaller things. We used to get DVDs, books, accessories.
Oli: Arts and crafts things. Like a book on how to make bracelets or something.
So it’s not a Christmas tree replacement. It’s a thing where you get smaller gifts but it’s really about smacking the Tió.
Oli: If you just focus on the presents, the presents aren’t the best. But it’s nice. You have the Tió at home, if you go out they’re all over the streets. I have a Tió in my gym. I really like seeing Tiós around.
Where exactly is Tió’s home for the rest of the year?
Oli: In the forest.
There’s no North Pole or anything like Santa has? Do we know how Tió travels from the forest to the front door?
Oli: It just walks. It’s not like Santa Claus that has a sleigh and everything. It’s a surprise.
Is there anything else you’d like people to know about Tió?
Pol: I just would go to my grandma’s house to do this thing and get candy. It was fun.
Oli: It’s not like you’re just going to the tree to get presents. You sing songs with your family and it’s fun. I’m going to look for the song.
(Olivia finds the Caga Tió song lyrics. I translate them into English as they sing)
Caga tió, tió de Nadal;
posarem el porc en sal,
la gallina a la pastera
i el poll a dalt del pi.
(Caga tió, Christmas log/we will put the pork in salt/the chicken in the pasture/and the louse on top of the pine tree)
Am I missing something here?
Pol: No. It makes no sense.
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