The Tió de Nadal is one of the most deeply rooted Christmas traditions in Catalan culture, although it is also popular in some areas of Aragon, where it is known as the Tronca de Navidad or La Toza. Its name means “Christmas log” in Spanish and, although it was originally part of the winter solstice festivities and the pre-Christian tradition, over time it became one of the most popular Christmas celebrations.
El Tió de Nadal, a centuries-old tradition
Originally, the tradition of Nadal’s uncle arose as a tribute to nature and fertility during the winter solstice. When Christmas Day arrived, on December 25, a log was burned and the ashes were scattered across the field as a symbol of protection and good luck for the following year. Over time, the tradition became a kind of homage to the logs that burned in the fireplaces of the poorest homes in rural Catalonia to provide light and warmth on the cold days of Christmas, thus remaining a kind of offering to the ancestors.
Today, the tradition of Nadal’s uncle has become an important part of the Catalan Christmas celebration, a kind of children’s celebration to which the whole family joins. In its most modern version, each family is made with a trunk or wood at the beginning of Advent, which they cover with a blanket so that it does not get cold and they feed it daily. According to tradition, the more children take care of the trunk, the better gifts it will bring them. Thus, when Christmas Eve or Christmas Day arrives, the little ones at home gather around Nadal’s tió with sticks to beat the trunk and make it “shit” gifts to the beat of the typical Christmas carol “Caga Tió”.
Formerly the celebration of Nadal’s uncle was the only day that children received gifts at rural Christmas parties, but this has changed over the years. Today, tradition dictates that the gifts from Nadal’s uncle are typical Christmas sweets, such as shortbread, nougat, wafers and other sweets, as well as small toys that parents place under the blanket when the little ones don’t see them. This is because the biggest and most beautiful gifts are reserved for Three Kings’ Day.
Lyrics of the song “Caga Tio”
The song “Caga Tió” is the Christmas carol that children traditionally sing while they have fun beating Nadal’s uncle. It is a very rhythmic theme, based on simple rhymes, a kind of ode to some of the most typical Christmas sweets of Catalan culture. It is worth noting that although its essence has remained unchanged over time, it is a very versioned song since practically every region of Catalonia has its own Christmas carol. Here is one of the most popular versions:
hazelnuts and pinyons
not caguis harangues
that are massa salades
fartons and pinyons.
Shit uncle Shit torrons hazelnuts
no caguis harangues
that are massa salades
pels bons minyons.
Video of the song “Caga Tió”
How to have your own Nadal uncle at home?
Whether it is a tradition that you celebrate every year or if it is the first time, it is likely that the little ones at home will be very excited to have their own Nadal uncle. One option is to make it at home since it is a very simple task, you will not need many materials and the children will be able to participate from scratch. So if you dare to make your own uncle of Nadal, you will need:
- Thick trunk about 30 centimeters long
- Pair of thinner logs for the legs
- Carpenter’s glue or mounting adhesive
- tempera paints
- Red beret or red and white wool cap
- Preferably red blanket
- pencil, optional
- Drill, optional
Steps for making:
- Start by sanding the part of the thick trunk where you will draw the face of Nadal’s uncle. Use the sandpaper making circular movements so that the trunk is as smooth and homogeneous as possible.
- Once sanded, use the tempera paints to draw the face. To make the process easier, you can first draw the eyes, nose and mouth with a pencil and then color them with tempera paints. This task can be done by the little ones at home. If you prefer to give the face a different touch, you can use a bit of cotton or a small round wooden block for the nose instead of paint.
- When the paint has dried, it ‘s time to attach the front legs to the main trunk. The most skilled with crafts can make, with the help of a drill, two small holes in the lower part of the trunk of approximately the same diameter as the trunks that you will use as legs. Once ready, you can put a bit of carpenter’s glue in the hole and fit the legs. However, if you do not want to complicate yourself so much, it is also worth using a little glue or mounting adhesive directly on the legs, without drilling holes.
- When the trunk is ready, place the blanket over it as if you were protecting it from the cold. Ideally, the blanket creates a kind of layer, so that later you can put the gifts that Nadal’s uncle will “shit” under.
- For the final touch, place the red barretina on top of the “head” to give it a more Christmassy look. If you prefer, you can also add a red and white scarf or any other Christmas detail to make it more original and fun.
Another alternative is to buy your uncle from Nadal. In Catalonia you can find many shops and sites specialized in making Nadal’s tió, where you will surely find the perfect tió for your home. However, if you prefer, you can also buy it online on platforms like Amazon, where you will find fun designs, from more rudimentary models to more original versions.