Okay, it’s been three days now and I thought I’d get over this. But I can’t get it out of my head: The image of my two-year old son beating on a log until it shits out gifts.
It’s a tradition here in Catalunya, a region which seems to have an unhealthy obsession with crap, especially when it comes to Christmas and religion. As if it weren’t enough to hear daily throughout the year, ¡Me cago en dios!, an epithet which translates directly as “I shit on God.” No Nativity scene is complete here without the Caganer, a figurine who squats behind the manger, Joseph and Mary, the animals and Three Wise Guys while his bare ass hovers proudly over a tiny, brown swirly of crap.
I’ve lived here long enough that most things seem normal to me, but this is the first year that I’ve had direct experience with the Caga Tió, or The Shit Dude. Essentially it’s a log with a face and hat on one end, propped up by two sticks which –with a little imagination—could be construed as legs. A blanket is thrown over his back-side and food is set out for him on the days leading up to Christmas. This, in order to plenish his bowels. Then, on Christmas day, the whole family gathers around and they beat on him with wooden spoons, mallets, and whatever violent sundry can be found around the house.
Meanwhile, they sing a song:
Shit, dude! Shit lots of candy!
Shit some wine and cookies!
Whether you shit or not,
I’m going to hit you with my stick!
After each refrain, they march in a parade around the house while some sneaky member of the family tosses gifts under the blanket. When the children return, all the adults begin to say, Let’s see if the dude has crapped. Look what the dude has crapped out! Ohh, what nice crap! Then it’s back to the song and parade and more gifts.
You know, I’m really not too uptight when it comes to language and my child, but something about this just doesn’t sit right with me. I guess it’s not so much the words as it is the focus on defecation and coprophagy by proxy.
But who am I to argue with tradition? In the same way that one can never really pinpoint the origins of obsessive-compulsive acts, cultural traditions inevitably guard their own secrets. Some say that it began in the Pyrenees and spread down from the mountains. My in-laws, who never miss an opportunity to describe their hardships during the Civil War, explained to me about 5 or 12 times over dinner that they had to beat on just an ordinary Tió, with no face, legs or hat. In the face of such determination to eat the crap from a log, I doubt that I will ever be able to dissuade my son from participating in this deviant ritual.
But all told, I don’t suppose it’s quite so bad in comparison to a tradition in which I grew up, in which every Sunday I was forced to eat the flesh and drink the blood of some long-dead guy who had been beaten to a pulp and executed in a brutal and excruciating manner. So, really it’s all just a matter of perspective. On the one hand, coprophagy. On the other, cannibalism. It’s so hard to judge.