Since my husband, two children, and I have moved to Barcelona last August, our life has been full of new experiences. New food, new language, new architecture. New school, new friends, new daily commute. New holidays, new ways to celebrate the holidays we love… and a whole new set of lies about magical holiday creatures.
Look, I love holidays. I love Christmas especially. I remember being a kid and the excitement that the holiday brought, especially during those years when I really believed that a jolly man in a red suit with a huge belly brought me gifts on Christmas morning. I love seeing that same excitement in my children’s eyes, and do my best to keep the magic alive year after year. When they were small and couldn’t talk much, that was easy.
But as they’ve gotten bigger, the stories of Christmas magic I tell my kids feel more and more like a big lie. As a parent (and person) who values honesty, this story telling doesn’t always sit right with me. I certainly did not come to Barcelona looking for another set of holiday lies to tell my kids.
But things don’t always go as planned. In December, my family was introduced to Caga Tío (“Shit Log”), the magical Christmas log. Every year, Catalan families either make their own Caga Tío by getting a log, drawing a face on it, and sticking a red hat on top, or buy one.
From December 8th to December 23rd they feed it every day (orange rinds and chestnuts are his favorite treats) and keep it warm with a blanket. Then, on Christmas Eve, after all this care and attention they have paid him, the children switch gears, hit Caga Tío with a stick and demands presents with the following poem:
Shit nougats (turrón),
Hazelnuts and mató cheese!
If you don’t shit well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
According to legend, this beating and song encourages Caga Tío to poop presents. After the chant, the children leave the room to give him privacy to take care of his business, and then return to discover what he has pooped them.
I mean, come on. I acknowledge that every country has its own traditions, and yes, perhaps if I had been raised without the idea of Santa it would sound crazy- and maybe even scary- to think of a grown man sneaking into your house at night while you sleep. But at least it doesn’t involve feces. There was no way my kids were going to believe this, right?
But, oh, believe they did. The tradition was introduced to them at school, where each classroom received their own Caga Tío, and every child was assigned a day on which they were responsible for bringing in food for him. My 8 year old excitedly told me about how the Caga Tío in his class had come to the classroom door and knocked on the door ALL BY ITSELF.
Not once did it enter his mind that perhaps an adult knocked on the door, left the Caga Tío in the hallway, and ran away. His belief in Caga Tío was unquestioning from the start. Not only does this log poop out presents, but he can now apparently move on his own accord and knock on doors as well.
At this point I could have decided to not participate in the Caga Tío facade and tell my kids that the log with a face on it is not, in fact, magical, and the gifts that the Caga Tíos across Catalunia poop out are actually given by parents. But it is a slippery slope, this kind of info. It not only destroys the illusion of Caga Tío, but also creates a crack in the magic of Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, and I wasn’t ready to get THAT real with my kids. Not yet.
So instead of revealing the truth, I jumped right in to the poop log magic show. We bought a Caga Tío of our own. When the kids fed him, either my husband or I ate the food while they weren’t looking, and then feigned surprise when the kids pointed out the food was gone.
When the kids forgot to feed him, I told them I had done so after they were in bed. I fashioned a smaller, portable Caga Tío out of a stick that we could use while we traveled over Christmas Eve, and then wove a tale of how the two Caga Tíos would work together, so that even though we fed the larger one at home and the smaller one while traveling, neither would go hungry.
There were discussions about how the presents he would poop did not need to be small enough to fit in the stomach on this smaller, travel Caga Tío: just like a snake can eat an animal many times their size, so can a Caga Tío defecate presents much larger than his body. I lied and I lied. And my sons believed.
As it turns out, our Caga Tío experience on Christmas Eve contains some of my fondest memories from Christmas last year. Me and my two sons, heads pressed together as we read the Caga Tío poem off my iPhone, fumbling through the Catalan and attempting to recite in unison. Me, slipping some presents next to Caga Tío as everyone else vacated the hotel room to give him privacy to take care of his business. All 4 of us, taking turns racing each other up and down the hallway while we waited, giddy with excitement. And finally, my boys’ glittering eyes as their belief in Caga Tío was vindicated by the presents they discovered upon re-entering the room.
Never have poop and lies seemed so sweet.