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Traditional caganerA traditional 'caganer' who is a regular feature in Catalan nativity scenes, whatever the city council decide
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Cagatio homeThe cagatió won't be looking so merry once the kids start hitting him and ordering him to 'poop' out his gifts
The holiday season is indeed upon us! Visions of festive lights, Christmas trees, reindeer, elves and jolly fat bearded men bearing gifts are dancing through the heads of our children.
Because we live in Barcelona, many of our children may also have a few more, shall we say, unusual, images dancing through their heads. Let us begin by gazing at the classic nativity scene. There are the wise men, the sheep, the ducks, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus in his cradle. Oh, but wait, who's that pooping over in the corner next to those ceramic shepherds? Meet El Caganer, the beloved pooping participant of the Catalan pessebre. 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 Catalan mangers for at least 200 years. Apparently there was widespread outcry in 2005 because the Barcelona City Council commissioned a nativity scene that did not include a caganer. 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 squatting where he belonged.
Anyway, back to our kids. The Caganer is not their only scatological holiday reference. No indeed. 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. That's right, I'm talking about the cagatió, the famous present-pooping log, adored by children throughout Catalunya. Just in case you're not familiar with the routine, cagatió is a jaunty little log with a red hat. After 'feeding' him for several nights, children hit him with a stick while singing a special song in which they order him to poop gifts. Then they look under his red plaid blanket (that's where the magic happens!) and voila! Turrones and whatnot for all!
A multi-cultural background is a blessing but it can be quite confusing around this time of year. At home, I talk to Nico and Luca about Santa Claus (called 'Papa Noel' in these parts), while in his class, Nico has been busy constructing 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 asks him what he hopes 'El Niño Jesus' will bring him, and at school all the kids can't stop talking about a pooping log.
This year, Nico has given into local pressure and has insisted we have our own cagatió. To be honest, I resisted the idea. I have enough trouble keeping up the pretense of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the almost bi-monthly appearance of either the Tooth Fairy or the Ratoncito Pérez, without having to also remember to feed a log every night. Also, at first I thought he was just using it as a ploy to get more holiday booty. But it turns out that he really believes. I mean he really, really believes that this log is real. He speaks to it in Catalan every night (worried that all the English around our house might induce constipation) and religiously leaves it prunes to snack on.
When I ventured to suggest that perhaps the log was just a fun tradition and not an actual living log, he exploded with indignation. "He IS real! At school last year I saw it! He talked and his face even turned red while he was making the presents!" Good lord! Am I going to have to hire a ventriloquist and a lighting technician for this operation?
At this point, I'm just thanking my lucky stars that the idea of the Three Kings hasn't made much of a dent in Nico's head so at least I don't have to worry about a bunch of camels trouping through my house come January 6th.
How does your family celebrate the holidays? Do you incorporate aspects of local culture into your festivities or do you just stick to what you know?