POOPING ON CHRISTMAS: the Catalan tradition
If you have been wandering about the Christmas ferias, you have probably seen the little figures pooping. Yep, some of them are the “classic” character of a man with a barretina and traditional Catalan garb. Other figures could be anyone, from celebrities to sports stars, nuns and politicians, these little caganers may be found in many forms. Some shops can even make a duplicate you figurine, cheerfully pooping amongst the sheep and cows of little baby Jesus’ manger. But where does this tradition come from? Why is this man pooping? and why do the Catalans include such a vulgar representation of human nature in a display meant to be outerworldy and sacred?
Like most traditions, no one really knows where the Caganer figure comes from. Some say that he has been around since the 1500’s. Others think that it came later, in the 1700’s. Although the origin of the Caganer is unknown, the figure has survived all these years until today, even although City Hall tried to ban the figure from public Belens in 1995.
Why is he in the manger scene? There are many reasons. Some say it is to make the archetypal story of the birth of Jesus more natural and less idealized. The Belens (nativity scenes) in Spain generally are much bigger than those in other countries and do not only focus on the birth of Jesus but also depict the type of lifestyle that the people lived during Jesus’ time. Many Belens have detailed miniature houses made equipped with food storage and animals. People spend hours upon hours constructing these Belens for the Christmas season every year and take them down after the holidays are over. So why shouldn’t there be a man depicted pooping in a corner of the Belen? It’s not like he is playing a part in the birth of Jesus, in fact the Caganer is placed a bit like “Where’s Waldo” in the nativity scene. You have to really search to find him and sometimes he is even hiding behind a tree or a bush. The bottom line is that the people, even during Jesus’ time had to poop. And this goes back to a basic concept: everyone poops, and people have been pooping since there have been people on the planet. Other people say that the caganer is “fertilizing” the ground which brings more crops and good luck. The people who buy a caganer, will have good luck for the upcoming year. Whatever the main reason for the caganer, it is definitely an unique and funny addition to what is usually a very serious tradition.
Another beloved tradition is the Caga tió which most people think translates to (pooping uncle) THAT IS INCORRECT. Caga means shitting, or pooping but Tió is usually confused for the Spanish word “tío” which means uncle. “Tió” with the accent on the O means a log. The Caga tió although funny sounding is actually quite a sweet tradition. The children of Catalunya in some places have a tió magically appear in their houses. But in some villages, they have a special night in which the tiós are said to appear in the outlaying forests. The children come together in the main plaza of the village and Little Red Riding Hood (Caprecita Roja) leads the children, equipped with lanterns into the edge of the wood where the tiós have been previously planted with their names on them. The tió’s once found by their appropriate child, are then placed covered with a blanket so that they will not catch a cold and transported to the plaza where the children are awarded with a bag full of candies and instructions on how to take care of their tió. In the days until Christmas, the children care for the tió like a pet, giving it food every night so that it grows bigger and bigger. Some parents buy tiós of different shapes so that the tió can literally be switched out replacing them with bigger and bigger tiós until Christmas when the children can finally coax the tió to poop candies and small presents. The way to coax the tió to poop is to play or sing the tió de nadal song and hit the tió in the “tummy” with a stick (the tió’s backside is covered with a blanket for privacy, of course, and also to cover the presents that are hidden there). When the song is over, the children can take off the blanket and there are the candies and presents! Thank you for pooping out Christmas, Christmas log!
This year in Barcelona, the MareMagnum (the big mall by the port at the end of the famous Barcelona Rambla) they have constructed a giant Caganer inside the mall that you can take pictures with. Who whouldn’t want a picture with a giant poo pyramid? And if you are interested in either the Caga tiós or figurines of the Caganer, right in front of the Barcelona Cathedral, you can buy either character along with other holiday goodies and interesting gift ideas for this holiday season.
This year, from the 4th of December until the 16th of January, in the Centro de Artesania de Catalunya (Banys Nous, 11), there will be a special exhibition about the Caganer. In the exhibition you can learn about the Caganer’s history and see some original artifacts and artwork about the iconic pooper and also some fun figurines from modern day artists. Don’t miss it!
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