I blame my friend Abigail Jones for introducing me to this Spanish Christmas tradition.
The Cagatió, (also known as the shitting log), is a small log, propped up with two stumpy legs, and adorned with a smiley face. See Google Images.
Throughout December, the children of Catalan ‘feed’ their log with local food1, and keep its backend covered in a blanket, to keep the little fella warm. Apparently stroking the Cagatió is not uncommon. From an outsiders perspective this appears to be lulling the log into a false sense of security, given that on the big day itself, the children whack the merry hell out of the log with sticks whilst singing a traditional folk song;
Caga tió, tió de Nadal, no caguis arengades, que són massa salades caga torrons que són més bons
Which, (and I swear I’m not making this up), translates as;
Shit log, log of Christmas, don’t shit herrings, which are too salty, shit nougats (turrón) which are much better!
Here is an example of the singing and the whacking, which encourages the log to ‘shit’ out presents. Generally, the warming blanket is removed to reveal the presents.
According to Abby, this is not the only scatalogical dimension to Christmas the Catalans enjoy. The Nativity scene, pessebre, has Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, and the shepherds gathered together in the stable, along with the caganer squatting in the corner.
The caganer is blatantly the most important person in a Catalan pessebre. He is the one with his pants down in the corner, possibly with a bit of stomach trouble, relieving his bowels. Why such a person exists is a little hazy: one story has it that he is actually one of the shepherds and got caught short.
Traditionally the caganer is depicted as an old Catalan man with a red hat and canvas shoes taking a dump in the manger, but you can buy a variety of pooping effigies including a defecating Kate Middleton. You can also buy a shitting Alex Salmond which on reflection would have made an excellent Christmas gift for my girlfriends’ Scottish parents.
As yet, I have not had an opportunity to acquire a Cagatió, (or a Caganer), of my own, but I fully intend to. I will give it pride of place alongside my Christmas tree in the living room.
Chiefly biscuits and orange peel, in much the way British children leave out a mince-pie for Father Christmas. ↩
An interview with David Corre, aircrash investigator.
“An aircraft accident is a very traumatic thing … the violence alone is something to be seen to be believed.” David Corre, his hands shaking from Parkinsons, looked me straight in the eye as he said this.
It was June 2002. We were sitting in the lobby of BAE Systems, Farnborough. David had short, wispy salt and pepper hair, and spoke with a soft West Country accent that broke as his hand shook. He was 71 but still working, and regularly flew Tiger Moths and Cessnas.
In his 46 years with the aircraft industry he had worked on the designs for the iconic Concorde, and the TSR-2, a British Cold War strike and reconnaissance aircraft that was cancelled before ever going into service. “It was probably the most advanced aircraft ever built in this country,” David told me with absolute conviction. “Had it been built in numbers and gone into service, it would undoubtedly have still been in service. It was one of the most beautiful aircraft I have had the pleasure of working on.”
Eric Schlosser, (Fast Food Nation), has a new book out. Command and Control is a terrifying account of accidents, near-misses, extraordinary heroism and technological breakthroughs, in the US management of nuclear weapons. From a preview of the book in Mother Jones:
Just days after JFK was sworn in as president, one of the most terrifying weapons in our arsenal was a hair’s breadth from detonating on American soil. It would have pulverized a portion of North Carolina and, given strong northerly winds, could have blanketed East Coast cities (including New York, Baltimore, and Washington, DC) in lethal fallout. The only thing standing between us and an explosion so catastrophic that it would have radically altered the course of history was a simple electronic toggle switch in the cockpit, a part that probably cost a couple of bucks to manufacture and easily could have been undermined by a short circuit—hardly a far-fetched scenario in an electronics-laden airplane that’s breaking apart.
If we don’t greatly reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world, or completely eliminate them, a major city is going to be destroyed by a nuclear weapon. It’s remarkable—it’s incredible!—that a major city hasn’t been destroyed since Nagasaki. We can confront this problem or we can accept that hundreds of thousands or more will be killed. And I don’t think that’s inevitable. The book was really written with a notion of trying to prevent that.