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