El Tio de Nadal
Posted on behalf of Dean Sammons:
Our colleague Raul Gomez in Los Angeles has submitted this very informative history of the Catalan version of the Yule Log. It is quite an interesting short history. I send it again wishing you all the best for a wonderful holiday break.
El Tio de Nadal
(Origins: Ancient [pre-Christian], S.W. European, Iberian Peninsula)
The Tio de Nadal (Catalan pronunciation Ti’o de Ne’da, Western Catalan: Ti’o Na’da); meaning in English Christmas Log, also known simply as Tio (trunk or log, big piece of cut wood or Tronca [a.k.a. as a log], is a character in Catalan mythology relating to a December holiday tradition widespread in Catalonia (N.W. Spain). A similar tradition exists in other places such as the Cachafuoc or Soc de Nadal in Occitania, or the Tizon de Nadal or Tronca de Nadal in Aragon (both regions in N.C. Spain), that share a common history. Don’t confuse Tio with the Castilian-Spanish word that means uncle. This tradition was introduced to the Americas in the 18 th (late), 19 th (all), and 20 th (1 st half) Centuries by farmers, dairy/cattle ranchers, and wine makers from the above-mentioned regions of Spain emigrating mostly to the island of Cuba, other Caribbean islands, but also to the N.E. and N.W. parts of the United States, Mesoamerica (Mexico), Central America, and South America.
The form of the Tio de Nadal found in many Catalan homes (in or outside of Spain) during the December holiday season is a hollow out wood log of about 2 to 3 feet in length. Recently, the Tio has come to stand up on wo or four little stick legs with a broad smiling face painted on the higher of the two ends, enhanced by a little red sock hat (a miniature of the Catalan barretina [beret]) and often a three-dimensional nose. Those accessories have been added only in recent times, altering the traditional and rough natural appearance of a dead piece of wood.
Beginning with the Roman-Catholic Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8), one gives the Tio a little to eat and drink (traditionally wine) every night and usually covers him with a little blanket so that he will not be cold at night.
On December 25 th or, depending on the particular household, on the night of December 24 th , one puts the Tio partly into the fireplace and orders it to give gifts (the actual verb [command] used is different [less subtle] but I don’t want to offend the uninitiated). You may also hear this verb used as part of the title of this tradition. The use of this uncouth verb is not believed to be part of the ancient (pre-Christian) tradition. The fire part of the tradition is no longer as widespread as it once was, since many modern homes do not have a fireplace. To make it give one beats the Tio with sticks, while singing various songs of Tio de Nadal.
The tradition says that before beating the Tio all the kids have to leave the room and go to another place of the house to ask for the Tio to give (deliver) presents. This makes the perfect excuse for relatives to put presents under the blanket.
The Tio does not give large presents, as those are to be brought by Los Reyes Magos (the Magi Kings/Three Wise Men) on January 6 [the Roman-Catholic Feast of the Epiphany]). It does give candies, fruits, and nuts (and today it’s known to even give gift cards and, at times, even some bad Iberian attitude). When there is nothing left to give, the log gives a salt herring, a head of garlic, or an onion. It’s even been known to burp on occasion. What the log gives is communal rather than personal. All that are present are meant to share the gifts.
Tio de Nadal Songs (translated from the Castilian Spanish)
Nuts, and cottage cheese,
If you don’t give well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
Log of the December holidays,
Don’t give herrings,
Which are too salty,
Which are much better!
After hitting the log softly with a stick while singing, it is hit harder on the words Give log! Then someone puts their hands under the blanket and takes a gift. The gift is opened and then the song begins again. There are many songs celebrating this ancient tradition, the above are just two short examples.
R. Julián Gómez Hérrera Hérvas St. Stefán
December 2013, Common Era (CE)