No Catalan Christmas is complete without Caga Tio’s crazy counterpart, the Christmas Shitter.
On the sick and demented show South Park, which never fails to serve up brilliant zeitgeist zingers, there’s an unlikely Yuletide character: Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo. He’s literally a merry little piece of shit. Part of what makes him so funny — besides the fact that he flies out of the toilet and leaves brown schmears everywhere he goes — is how absurd it is to connect what was once the holiest of holidays with, well, fecal matter.
Turns out the Catalans had already been doing just that for a couple of centuries.
Who exactly is the Caganer?
He’s a cheerful little guy dressed in a traditional Catalan outfit: white shirt, red cap and belt, black pants. Innocuous from the front, there’s a surprise around back. The Caganer has his pants pulled down to expose his ample bottom — and there’s a spiral of shit at his feet.
How do you pronounce Caganer?
My friend Albert, who lives in Barcelona, sent voice recordings so I could hear how you properly pronounce Caganer. To me, it sounded like “ka-ga-nay,” but said very quickly. I suggested that pronunciation guide to Albert, and he wasn’t quite sold.
Morale of the story: End the word with an “ay” sound rather than “er” — and you should get an A for effort.
Holy crap! The defecating figurine is actually placed in the nativity scene.
It sounds sacrilegious to include someone dropping a deuce near Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Three Wise Men and the rest of the nativity bunch. But that’s exactly what Catalan families do — though the Caganer is placed far away from the manger.
“The Caganer is never in the front of the nativity scene. That would be a lack of respect. He’s always hidden in a corner, under a bridge or behind a tree, and every morning the children play a game, hunting for the Caganer,” Joan Lliteras, a self-proclaimed “Caganer connoisseur,” told the BBC.
How the heck did this tradition start?
As strange as it sounds, the Caganer is seen as a symbol of fertility and good fortune.
“There was the legend that if a countryside man did not put a Caganer in the nativity scene, he would have a very bad year collecting vegetables,” Lliteras explained.
“Others say that the irreverent figure is meant to humble establishment figures or that it demonstrates that no one can be prepared for when Jesus will appear,” Smithsonian.com reported.
There’s another theory: Not everyone could give the Son of God expensive gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh like the Magi.
“It was the only thing the little shepherd boy had to give the Baby Jesus,” Nancy Duneuve told the BBC. “So it’s not at all disrespectful — it’s a great gift.”
Manure, after all, makes good fertilizer.
Was that the Queen of England I saw taking a dump?
Why, yes, yes, it was. The Caganer tradition has entered the modern era. While you can still find the original Caganer, the Christmas markets of Barcelona and the nearby area are filled with Star Wars characters, political figures (yes, Trump has become popular this year), football stars, the Pope, Spider-Man and SpongeBob SquarePants.
Vendors insist it’s not an insult but rather a great honor to be depicted as a Christmas crapper.
Believe it or not, this isn’t the only Scatological Catalan Christmas tradition!
There’s also the Caga Tío, the Pooping Log. This is a piece of wood with a cartoonish face (googly eyes, big smile). It wears a traditional red Catalan cap like the Caganer and is covered with a blanket. Kids feed it their leftovers, beat it with sticks, sing a song — and hope it poops out yummy treats. I guess you could say they literally beat the shit out of it.
Visit Caganer.com — and start your own collection. Catalan Christmases truly are the shit. –Wally