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A Catalan Christmas in Belgium

The Caga Tió (literally “poop log”) and Saint Nicholas combined. The Massard Sans family of Brussels celebrates Christmas with a mix of Catalan and Belgian traditions.

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20 December 2010 10:15 PM

by

ACN / Raquel Correa

Brussels (ACN).- Roser is from Barcelona. After attending university at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, she completed her masters in Brussels. In Brussels she met Belgium man Sébastien. The couple stayed in Belgium and had three children, Joan, Aina and Nil. When Christmas time comes around, the family makes sure to celebrate both Catalan and Belgium traditions. For the Massard Sans family, the Christmas season lasts from the 5th of December, when Saint Nicholas arrives with gifts, to the 6th of January, with the arrival of the Three Kings. \u201CThe Kings don\u2019t come all the way to Brussels as it is too far. But they do pass by grandfather\u2019s in Barcelona\u201D, explained Roser while opening presents under their Catalan Christmas log, caga tió, in their Brussels home.


Saint Nicholas, a Bishop coming from Spain, arrives in Belgium on the 6th of December when he parades through the streets of Belgium on a donkey. Another figure, Père Fouèttard, \u201Crepresents the dark side of Saint Nicholas and scolds you if you have not been good\u201D, said Sébastien Massard. This is a Flemish tradition, which also exists in The Netherlands. There, Saint Nicholas, called Sinterklaas, comes from Spain in a boat on the 5th of December. He comes with black dwarfs, called the Zwarte Pieten, who help Sinterklaas. Children who miss-behave not only do not receive gifts but they are taken by the Zwarte Pieten and Sinterklaas back to Spain.

Saint Nicholas awards good behaviour. \u201CEveryone leaves a list in their shoes and places them by the door. Then they sing the song of Saint Nicholas. A few days before the holiday, Saint Nicholas comes by to take the list and leave candy\u201D, explained Roser Sens. \u201CThis year, on the 5th of December, we will leave a plate and a glass of milk for Saint Nicholas, as well as water and a carrot for his donkey. Then we will see if they have eaten them and left us mandarins and gifts\u201D, she added. According to the tradition, Saint Nicholas leaves mandarins, chocolate and \u2018speculoos\u2019, a Belgian ginger and cinnamon-spiced Christmas cookie.

The Tió (or Caga Tió) and Three Kings in Brussels

The Massard Sens family does their best to incorporate Catalan Christmas traditions into their Brussels home. \u201CThe Kings don\u2019t come all the way to Brussels as it is too far. But they do pass by grandfather\u2019s in Barcelona\u201D, said Roser. But what does exist in Brussels is the famous Catalan Christmas log, the tió. It is also known as the caga tió. Every year, the Catalan House of Brussels has a communal caga tió.

The \u2018caga tió\u2019, literally meaning \u2018poop log\u2019, is an essential part of the Catalan Christmas experience. In the days leading to Christmas, families go out in search of the log that will later become their very own \u2018caga tió\u2019. Once they find one, they paint a face on one end, place a \u2018barretina\u2019 (red stocking hat traditionally worn by Catalan peasants) on it and cover it with a warm blanket to protect it from the cold winter. Beginning on the 8th of the December, the day of the Immaculate Conception, families begin \u201Cfeeding\u201D the log, giving it little treats every night until Christmas. On Christmas, children usually sing to the log, asking it to \u201Cpoop out presents\u201D while beating it with a stick. The \u2018caga tió\u2019 then reveals an array of candies and snacks for the whole family to enjoy, or nowadays toys and other presents.

For two weeks, children can come to the Catalan House of Brussels and take care of the caga tió, feeding it with presents until the night of Christmas. The log is fed until Christmas, when the Catalan House celebrates and the caga tió gives presents to all the Catalan children of Brussels. \u201CHaving a place like the Catalan House where other families can celebrate these traditions helps a lot, because the children see the tradition normally and not just as something you celebrate at home\u201D, said Roser.

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  • A kid in Brussels' Catalan House next to a Sinterklaas (by R. Correa)

  • A kid in Brussels' Catalan House next to a Sinterklaas (by R. Correa)