Meritxell Codina, an air crash investigator from Sant Jordi de Cercs in Catalonia, Spain, strongly agrees. In his hometown, a main feature as Christmas approaches is the Caga Tió (or “poo log”) – a hollow log with a smiling face, stick paws and a playful red hat. “In the United States or the United Kingdom, there is Santa Claus. But here we have tió, ”says Codina. (It’s not the region’s only scatalogical Christmas tradition, either.)
Families release theirs on December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The children “feed” the log – with turrón (a Catalan nougat), chocolate, dried fruits, etc. – until Christmas rolls around and they hit her with sticks, sing a song to “encourage” him to poop gifts (which adults sneak up when the children enter another room to pray for the tió).
The practice evolved from a pagan winter tradition of searching for a large log in the mountains to bring home for the fireplace, explains Barcelona historian Dani Cortijo. The tradition “brand[s] the start of a new season, paying homage to nature for giving us a way to survive a harsh winter, especially in the cold mountains ”.
Codina, 34, grew up watching her parents make tea for their friends. His father cut down oak trees from their family forest in the mountains near their hometown and shaped them into the body and legs of the tió. His mother then painted on the faces and affixed a traditional Catalan hat, the barretine, to newspapers.
This year his family decided to turn their hobby into a business, which they named Caga Tió de Carbonís after one of the nearby mountains, and to sell their logs on Instagram.
For Codina, Caga Tió is as durable as a gift can be, as it is made from organic materials sourced from the local environment. Once Christmas has passed, some families choose to keep their log and reuse it the following year, others burn it.
Wood, if not burned, is among the most durable materials, says Sadegh Shahmohammadi, sustainability data specialist at the Organization for Applied Scientific Research in the Netherlands. “Wood absorbs carbon and stores it as it grows. It is a renewable, biodegradable, recyclable and (often) sustainable material.
Finding local materials to make Christmas crafts was the name of the game when Leona Valenzuela, 39, was growing up in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Filipinos traditionally cling words, star-shaped lanterns, in their windows during Christmas time – a practice that dates back hundreds of years to Spanish colonial times, when they were used to guide worshipers to church for dawn masses during the pre-Christmas festival of Simbang gabi.
Words represent the Star of Bethlehem and symbolize hope, faith and the triumph of light over darkness.
Each year, families make their own colorful stars from bamboo sticks and paper, and children learn how to make them at school, explains Valenzuela. “Every Filipino knows how to make a word. “
Recently, Valenzuela, who now lives in Singapore, taught me how to make her love her words. While it took most of the day, making it was easy enough for her eight-year-old daughter, Emmerlyn, to join her.
We used a glue gun to attach wooden ice cream sticks together and glued shiny crepe paper on them to form our stars. Cutting the paper to fit the different segments of the three-dimensional star was taking a long time, but it was time well spent chatting at the kitchen table as we walked away. And it seemed liberating to us to let our creativity run free – while our words initially identical with their wooden frames, they diverged into a star with mini pom poms and streamer tails, and another adorned with cotton balls and potpourri-shaped adhesives.