Shit Out of Log.

My brother is visiting our mother in Switzerland for some pre-holiday cheer. To me, of course, holiday season in Switzerland means only one thing: everyone’s favorite sack-toting, child-beating sidekick, Schmutzli. I have happily incorporated this particular aspect of Swiss culture into my own seasonal festivities, and so asked my brother to keep an eye out for anything Schmutzli-related. But he had a better idea.

You see, Max and my mother are leaving for a quick jaunt to Barcelona tomorrow, and in the course of his research, my brother had discovered a Spanish holiday custom that seemed to him to demand import. “We’re starting a whole new tradition!” he enthused. And then he proceeded to tell me about it.

Now, Max has a history of playing me for a fool. For instance, he once convinced me that the town of Killdeer, North Dakota was named for a bird called the Killdeer. This is true—what is not is that the Killdeer is so named for its practice of hunting in swarms, hundreds of the small birds rising up as one body to cover and bring down a full-grown deer.
(I know. I know. But you should hear him tell it!)
He loves to trot out the story of how he convinced me of the existence of The Tiny, Bloodthirsty Killdeer, and so when he started in on the story of The Catalan Shit Log, I naturally thought it was not the log that was full of shit, and went online for some fact checking.

My suspicion was almost immediately replaced by some unnameable melange of delight and escalating horror:

So—let me get this straight.

First you find a log. Then you wrap that log tenderly in a blanket and bring it into your home, where, beginning on the Feast of The Immaculate Conception, you ply it with nightly gifts of food. After 16 or 17 days of this, you gather the children, and together you shroud the log and beat it fiercely with sticks, crying “SHIT LOG! SHIT!” until it defecates candy, fruit, and small gifts. Eventually the log has nothing more to give, at which point you throw it onto the fire.

I…I honestly have nothing to add. I’ve never met a set of facts LESS in need of embellishment. There are Youtube videos of cherubic school children gleefully thwacking the Class Shit Log. The traditional Beating Song translates like this:

Shit log,
shit turrón (nougat),
hazelnuts and cottage cheese,
if you don’t shit well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
shit log!

What I find most bizarre—recognizing that, in this case, “most bizarre” is high honor indeed—is the fact that families personify this log, paint a face upon it, treat it as a treasured guest, and then, two weeks later, come together to taunt and beat their wooden charge (severely enough that, according to legend, it not only loses control of its bowels but finally urinates) before setting it ablaze. And for what? Nougat, traditionally. Nougat!

When my brother and my mother return to the states next week, they will not be alone: with them will be our family’s Caga Tio. I am not sure I have the heart to participate in this particular tradition, especially given the pains I have taken to impress upon Simone that we never, ever hit our friends. What am I going to say? “Unless they might shit nougat?” I grant that it would likely be safe to add a nougat-feces exception, but it’s a slippery slope, and I’d be setting a dangerous precedent.

These are the kinds of parenting issues I am faced with at the holidays—whether or not to let my child participate in scatological celebratory beatings, given that she does already have a knitted finger puppet of a character holding a staff meant for festive seasonal child abuse. I don’t quite know what this says about me as a mother. I am not convinced I want to.

47 comments

  1. Jenn says:

    We never hit our friends unless they might shit nougat!! Oh my dear, I am going to die laughing. This is by far the most bizarre Christmas tradition I have ever heard.

  2. Noemi says:

    This is marvellous, I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of it sooner! And as this is the first year that my family is not travelling we are going to start our own “at home” traditions. I can’t wait to tell them we are embracing the Shit Log!

  3. Clarabella says:

    Fantastic.
    And coming from German descent as I do, scatological traditions are not unfamiliar to me. But this takes the cake, or the “shits the nougat,” we might say. (Let’s get this new saying going!)

  4. Hannah says:

    I’ve read your blog for years and have never commented, so I’m not sure what it says about me that “scatological celebratory beatings” are apparently what it takes to bring me out of hiding. But here we are.

    This is hilarious. And horrifying…but mostly hilarious.

  5. sharon says:

    I would so beat the shit out of any old log in return for some genuine Spanish Turrón, it is indeed amazing stuff. Make sure they bring you all of the different varieties.

    Santa arrives in Oz on a sleigh drawn by giant white Boomers (kangaroos). Who knew . . ?!! This was a surprise for us when we moved here from the UK.

  6. Leah says:

    We never hit our friends unless they might shit nougat? Honestly, I think I peed myself a little. Now I’m off to see if Amazon sells shit logs. They just might replace the advent calendars around here from now on…

  7. Alison C says:

    Yes but it was such a naughty log – it did not eat all that food it was given. Does it not know there are children in Africa who would aprreciate thet meal?

    Hilarious.

  8. Ron says:

    Reminds me a bit of the old Mr. Hanky bit from South Park when they first started…ah the good old day.

    Mmmm… Nougat fecal matter!

  9. Ron says:

    Reminds me a bit of the old Mr. Hanky bit from South Park when they first started…ah the good old days.

    Mmmm… Nougat fecal matter!

  10. Robin says:

    I am delurking to comment because this particular facet of Catalan (not Spanish–it only happens in Catalonia) Christmas is also, to my mind, fantastically ridiculously awesome-crazy. My husband is Catalan, and when he explained the tradition early on in our dating relationship I was CONVINCED that either he was mistranslating something or I was misunderstanding something. But no. They hit a log and ask it to poop presents, and this is a beloved feature of Christmas. And the kids–my nieces (and now probably my son will)–really and truly believe in it. The only thing I would note is that, in my experience, the log isn’t actually tossed on the fire–families keep their Tio around for year after year.
    Do you know about the Caganer? Another awesome-crazy Christmas Catalan tradition featuring poop: in every nativity scene, there is a little figure with his pants pulled down defecating (there is even a little pyramidical pile of poop) somewhere in a corner even as baby Jesus is adored by the magi. Children make a game of finding the Caganer (the shitter) hidden within the usually elaborate scenes. (Google it or find it on Wikipedia for some images.)

  11. Robin, you beat me to the Caganer punch. I celebrate in only the most heathenistic and secular of ways, and lately have taken to surreptitiously planting a little shitting statue into my mother’s nativity scene. I bought a Barack Obama one for this year.

  12. Chickenpig says:

    You’re shitting me! Seriously? I am the most gullible person alive. I’m looking this up on the internet RIGHT NOW. You’d better not be pulling my chain. If you are, I’ll send you some ‘nougat’. ;)

  13. Kimberly says:

    I feel like I’ve been deprived for never having been told of this tradition until now. I think my toddlers would love this. Thank you so much for sharing this gem.

  14. Kristin says:

    No. Really? I just can’t believe this is true. It’s just…wow. I love it so much. Thank you for making my day. I am sitting here at work, struggling to laugh silently, and tears are running down my cheeks. Brilliant.

  15. No. No, no, no, no, no. I am CONVINCED that you are pranking me somehow. You rented a video camera, hired some extras, and made that YouTube video, didn’t you? You planted those commenters who had already “heard” of the Shitting Log. You MUST have done, Alexa, because I refuse to believe that this is anything but one giant April Fool’s Day joke that is happening, for some reason, in December. HAHA, YOU ALMOST GOT ME.

  16. MJ says:

    And here I was worried that the title somehow referred to your current state of pregnancy. I trust that all is going well on that front, if you’re busy writing about Catalan Christmas traditions–which are about as nuts as anything I’ve ever heard.

  17. Brenda says:

    I had to look this up. I….I…just CANNOT believe this is true. But the interwebs say that it is. But now that you have brought it to my attention, I am spreading this to everyone I know. I haven’t laughed this much (while sitting with a horrified look of shock on my face) for a long, long time!

    • Slim says:

      The Interwebs tell us all sorts of things. Like Uncle Shitlog, they’re COMPLETELY FALSE.

      I know this without doing any sort of research at all, because this just obviously can’t be true.

  18. Shelly in Austin says:

    I, too, must delurk to say that this is truly hilarious. I can’t wait to share it with my seven year old who believes bathroom humor to be the highest form of entertainment. And “I’ve never met a set of facts LESS in need of embellishment,” is my new favorite sentence.

  19. marcoda says:

    Far be it from me to laugh at other people’s traditions but I’m in tears and sputtering and had to just send people the link because every time I tried to explain, I started laughing and snorting again.
    “scatological celebratory beatings”

    HA!!!

  20. Amy says:

    Just a little comment to let you know that after reading your post I dreamt that I was the Caga Tio and I was being beat with sticks so that I would give up my treats. When I awoke, I almost threw up as I still felt like I was being hit in the stomach with sticks, and then realized this little human that I am growing was trying to kick the nougaty crap out of me! I blame your brother.

  21. Judit says:

    We’ve known about this strange Catalan tradition only because my brother-in-law lives in Barcelona (an American in Barcelona) and has introduced us to Caca Tio. He has even given us a pooping man figurine. So, so heart-warming.

  22. Meghan says:

    “I grant that it would likely be safe to add a nougat-feces exception, but it’s a slippery slope, and I’d be setting a dangerous precedent.”

    Completely awesome. So awesome I wrote about it on facebook.

  23. Kim says:

    Holy shit. I had to live to be 65 before finding this out? People really are weird. I’m not sure I’ll be including beating on a shit log in my holiday celebrating, but I am glad to add this to my store of knowledge.

  24. Amy K says:

    So I had to go do some Wikipedia research on Caga Tio and other scatalogical holiday festivities after reading this, of course, and I saw while looking up Caganer that there is a similar tradition in Germany called Choleramännchen or Hinterlader (“Little Cholera Man” or “Breech-loader”). I think I’m going to be laughing at random and inappropriate moments for at least a week now. Thank you for the holiday cheer.

  25. Kara says:

    So I’m assuming that this won’t automatically link, but it’ll totally be worth your effort to copy and paste this in your browser so that you can watch the video on this post:

    http://johannawrites.com/2010/12/30/and-stranger-still/

    The blog belongs to one of my friends from childhood, who has lived everywhere from Switzerland to Tokyo with her husband and two boys (well, as each of them has arrived; they’re still little), but right now she lives in Barcelona. So last year at Christmas time she also did a whole post dedicated to this most awesome tradition. I certainly would not have been familiar with it before your post if not for HER post, but both definitely contribute to the cultural landscape for all of us house ladies (to quote Better Now Kristin from back in the day) here in America. Check out the video; I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched it because it’s so excellent!

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