It's Christmas Eve, which means children across Catalonia are gathering in their homes for the traditional whacking of the festive shit log.
Tió de Nadal (Christmas log), a hollow log with stick legs, a smiley face, and a floppy red hat, is a yule branch with a scatological spin. (Its other name is Caga Tió, or "shit log," for reasons that will shortly become apparent.)
On December 8 each year — the Feast of the Immaculate Conception — families bring out the happy log. Every night until December 24, children are tasked with "feeding" the log by offering him nuts, dried fruit, and water. Kids must also cover Tió de Nadal with a blanket to ensure he stays warm and comfortable.
On Christmas Eve, it is time for the little shit log to shine. Children gather around the red-hatted branch and beat him with sticks while singing the traditional Tió de Nadal song:
Hazelnuts and mató cheese,
If you don't shit well,
I'll hit you with a stick,
Then comes the miracle: the kids look under Tió de Nadal's blanket and discover that the dear log has pooped out a pile of candies and presents. (The end of the defecation session is signaled by the presence of a stinky herring.) When everyone has collected their gifts from Tió de Nadal, the family burns him for warmth.
The poop log is not Catalonia's only defecation-based festive tradition. Take a close look at any nativity scene in the area and you'll spot Caganer, a porcelain man copping a squat in the presence of Mary, Joseph, and the Three Wise Men. Caganer is not meant to be sacreligious — his fertilization of the holy ground heralds a prosperous harvest in the new year.
By Ella Morton
Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world's hidden wonders @atlasobscura.