We’re Dreaming of a Brown Christmas
Celebrate the holiday season with a flurry of festive feces factoids.
Given that it’s the week before Christmas and Hanukkah, we wondered whether we should use our newsletter to give you a refresher course on microbiology.
But then we thought again.
No. No. No.
‘Tis the holiday season, surely.
You deserve something a little lighter. Something, dare we say it, amusing.
And if our Inbox has told us anything over the past few weeks, it’s that we another anthology of poop-related stories would be quite welcome.
They always seem to go down well, but this time they have a Christmas flavor.
So stand by for a kind of celebratory European sandwich, with a savory Yorkshire filling, between two tasty slices of Catalonia.
We’ll therefore begin by paying our first visit to Catalonia, an autonomous community in north-eastern Spain, where the locals take the concept of a Christmas log to a rather eye-popping extreme.
A popular Catalan Christmas tradition is something called the “Tió de Nadal,” also known as the “Caga tió.”
Tió in the Catalan language means “log,” so a Tió de Nadal is a Christmas log.
So far, so good. But Caga?
Well, it means “poop,” resulting in a Caga tió being a poop log.
What the heck?
A Caga tió is a wooden log with four sticks for legs, a smiling face painted on one end, and a red Catalan hat on its “head.”
You can buy them in Catalan markets, and apparently they’re popular in Barcelona.
Essentially, homes install their poop log on December 8th (Immaculate Conception Day) then the kids pamper and care for it until Christmas Eve.
The lucky little log gets “fed,” and is even kept warm at night with a blanket.
Then on Christmas Eve, a remarkable ceremony takes place as the poop log is moved closer to the fireplace so the kids can gather around it to sing the “Caga tió” song to persuade the log to poop presents.
As they sing, the kids whip the log with a stick.
We’re not making this up.
Once the singing and whipping is over, the kids leave the room to pray for presents, giving their parents a chance to sneak little gifts under the log – small items like candy, nuts, cheese, and dried fruit.
The kids come back and – voila! – the log has pooped everything they ever hoped for. Well, nougat, almonds, and raisins, anyway.
The poop log doesn’t seem to go in for iPhones or Hatchimals.
After several rounds of prodigious pooping, the poor old log has given its all, and finally squeezes out a salt herring, the sign that the party is over.
Just in case you’d like to begin this tradition in your own home, here’s the English translation of the supposedly cute little Caga tió song.
Hazelnuts and cheese,
If you don’t sh*t well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
(The last line is sung as a command.)
When it’s all over, some families burn their logs. Others put them away until next year.
As we now head into the filling of our seasonal sandwich, we travel from north-east Spain to the north of England where, five years ago, the utility company Yorkshire Water found itself struggling to manage the sewers at holiday time.
Not because of “Christmas logs” (although one does wonder how the sewage system copes with the after-effects of everybody eating whopping dinners at the same time) but because families were disposing of hot turkey fat by pouring it down the drain.
The Brits, you may know, traditionally cook a turkey at Christmas, while we Americans generally enjoy them a month earlier, at Thanksgiving.
Anyway, all this fat was apparently clogging up Yorkshire’s arteries, so the wily water company introduced a “biological weapon” by pouring vats of water mixed with Bacillus bacteria into the sewers at 180 known trouble spots across the county.
The bacteria couldn’t wait to start its fat-feast, so worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week, tucking into turkey fat and easing the strain on British sewers.
Now we’ve taken care of British sewers, let’s end with a return to Catalonia, which certainly seems to have the knack of bringing together Christmas and poop.
Quite aside from the aforementioned log, Catalan Nativity scenes generally include a character called the Caganer, which delightfully translates to The Crapper.
Yup – Joseph, Mary, the little baby Jesus, the three wise men, angels, shepherds…
And The Crapper.
Again, we’re not making this up.
The Crapper is traditionally a little character, about five inches high, who crouches at the back of the stable with his pants around his knees, uh, doing his business.
Looking quite innocent from the front, a caganer has bared buttocks looming above what, for the avoidance of any doubt, looks very much like a long, coiled sausage.
No one is sure how these caganer figurines first came to be, but they’ve been part of Catalan Christmas culture for over 200 years.
It’s thought that they originally celebrated the use of human manure to fertilize fields, so were perhaps meant to bestow luck on the baby Jesus, rather than showing him disrespect.
It’s common for Catalan parents to move the caganer around in the manger scene every night.
In the morning, therefore, kids can enjoy an entertaining game of Hunt The Crapper.
The ceramic caganers started out depicting a Catalan man wearing a traditional floppy red hat, but in more recent years it has become commonplace for the 25 companies that manufacture them to depict celebrities and politicians.
And, yup, this year there were both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump crappers.
The New York Times recently reported that Catalonia’s largest caganer distributor, caganer.com, ships almost half its figurines to the US.
The company’s managing director, Sergi Alós, reported that although both the Clinton and Trump caganers have sold well this year, neither has been as popular as the figurine of a foreigner that’s been number one since 2008.
Yup, Barack Obama, whose caganer figurine generally comes with the inscription “Yes we can” on its base.
That’s on the base. Not on the can, you understand.