A Catalan Christmas

Let us begin by gazing at the classic nativity scene. There are the wise men, the cows, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus in his cradle. Oh but wait, who’s that over in the corner next to those ceramic shepherds? Is it…? could it be….? A man taking a shit? Meet El Caganer, the beloved pooping participant of the Catalan nativity scene. There is some debate over the origins and reasons for this tradition but it is generally agreed that El Caganer (literally “the pooper”) has been doing his business in Catalonian mangers for at least 200 years.

I’m so not shitting you!

In the United States, you know you are important if your face appears on the top of a cupcake. In the Catalonian region of Spain, you know you’ve hit the big time if you are made into a pooper. Apparently there was widespread outcry in 2005 because the Barcelona City Council commissioned a nativity scene that did not include a caganer. The Catalan citizens (who it must be said, are quite sensitive when it comes to any perceived attack on their cultural traditions) were outraged. I would really love to have been a fly on the wall during the discussions that took place regarding the issue.

Outraged Catalan Citizen: “WHERE’S OUR POOPER? Normally he squats over by that dry riverbed, next to the angel, and this year he’s GONE! How could you!

City Official: “We felt that in view of the recent law making public defecation illegal, including the pooper in the nativity would set a bad example…”

Outraged Catalan Citizen: “This is an outrage! This is an attack on Catalunya! Bring back the pooper! Independence from Spain!!”

A “Save the Pooper” campaign and general media frenzy followed and in 2006, El Caganer was back where he belonged.

So while you guys were attending midnight mass or singing “Frosty the Snowman” or frantically assembling a Playmobil space navigation station, guess what the Catalans were doing on Christmas Eve? Now imagine if you got David Lynch and John Waters together and ordered them to devise a Christmas scenario which involved poop. Just think about the possibilities and  then understand that reality would still be stranger than fiction. Because here is what they were doing. They were standing around logs, beating them  with sticks and ordering the logs to poop candies. I’m serious people. The poor little log is named “Caga Tío” (Pooping Log) and he usually has a face painted on him and is dressed in a jaunty cap and Christmas blanket. As I understand it, in the days leading up to Christmas, he is fed copious amounts of orange peels (or whatever) which he will then poop out in the form of sweets on the big day. To get him to poop, you must stand around beating him with a stick while singing the following song:

caga tió,

caga torró,

avellanes i mató,

si no cagues bé

et daré un cop de bastó.

caga tió!”


“Poop log, poop sweets

if you don’t poop well,

I’ll hit you with a stick,

poop log!”

Poor Nico. A multi-cultural background is a blessing but it can be quite confusing around this time of year. First we went to a Hanukkah party and ate pumpernickel bagels. Next we started talking about Santa Claus (called “Papa Noel” in these parts) while in his class they constructed Los Reyes Magos (the three “magic kings” who leave presents for Spanish children on January 6th*)  out of play-doh. In the meantime, his Colombian grandmother was asking him what he hoped “El Niño Jesus” would be bringing him, and at school all the kids couldn’t stop talking about a log that poops presents.

To top things off, he lost his first two teeth within the past few weeks. The first time he was here and the Tooth Fairy paid him a visit. The second time was in New York City with his Colombian relatives and it was El Ratoncito Perez (a small mouse named Perez who deals with the teeth of the Spanish speaking world) who showed up.

The future therapy bills are mounting…

*instead of leaving a carrot out for the reindeer, water must be left for the camels