Saturday, December 8, 2012

Poop, Log! Poop! a/k/a Merry Christmas!

This month I have really started to learn about Catalan Christmas Traditions. I was here in Barcelona for a week at Christmastime in 2010 but I spent the entire time with Ulises' family and then in Madrid where the traditions are similar to those I grew up with. But this year as I have been working with Catalan children in their homes and adults at school I have learned so much more about their Christmas traditions....

and they are... unique!

For example, take a look at this photo:

Your first reaction night be-- how disgusting! What does this guy have to do with Christmas?! Well  friends, let me introduce you to the Caganer. You place him in the nativity set! He is present with the wise men, shepherds and holy family! He celebrates the birth of the Christ child. Now, according to Wikipedia and the Catalan people I speak with, they don't know where he came from. But there are a few ideas of his purpose in the nativity set. None are meant to be disrespectful. Here are a few of my favorites: (The extensive list can be found under Caganer on Wikipedia.)

  • A fun spectacle, especially for children.
  • The Caganer, by creating feces, is fertilizing the Earth. Its a customary figure in  nativity scenes because people believe that this deposit [symbolically] fertilizes the ground of the nativity which becomes fertile and ensures the nativity for the following year. Placing this figurine in the nativity brings good luck and joy and not doing so brings adversity."[6]
  • The Caganer represents the equality of all people: regardless of status, race, or gender, everyone defecates.
  • Increased naturalism of an otherwise archetypal (thus idealised) story, so that it is more believable, more real and can be taken more seriously.
  • The idea that God will manifest himself when he is ready, without regard for whether we human beings are ready or not.
  • The Caganer reinforces the belief that the infant Jesus is God in human form, with all that being human implies.
  • The character introduces a healthy amount of religious doubt to test one's faith.
  • A humorous allusion to the Spanish proverb (in translation), "Dung is no saint, but where it falls it works miracles."
And Look-- Many other characters past and present real and unreal can be found in the Caganer's squatting position. Take a look at this Obama! I have also recently seen Michael Jackson, the pope, and athletes. 

And look-- The world's largest Caganer... woohoo!

So you think that Caganer guy is a little strange, eh? A little bit of poop in your holiday celebrations is healthy, right? But what about a WHOLE LOT of poop?

Take a look at this Christmas tradition......

The Text is in Catalan. It reads: 
Hello family!
I'm your Caga Tio!
The street was very cold and so I entered your house without making any noise.
Can I stay here with you?
I just need a bit of food and a blanket.
thank you very much!

this is a family I work for. They have the Caga Tio

Where is the poop you say? Well let me tell you. This little guy is cared for by Catalan children in their homes. Each home has a Caga Tio. They keep him warm, feed him and love him. He can't talk but he can see you and hear you. If you are behaving badly he takes note. He also notices when you are behaving well! Every morning Catalan children are excited to see that Caga Tio has eaten his food. They know for certain, just as I knew with Santa, that these things are accomplished through belief and MAGIC!
So after a month of feeding, warming, caring for and doting upon dear Tio, on Christmas Eve the children gently approach him and WACK HIM WITH A STICK!!!

They hit him and recite this song ( sorry for the colorful language, but it is an accurate translation) :

Caga tió song:
"Caga tió,
caga torró,
avellanes i mató,
si no cagues bé
et daré un cop de bastó.
caga tió!"
Shit log,
shit nougats (turrón),
hazelnuts and cottage cheese,
if you don't shit well,
I'll hit you with a stick,
shit log!
An alternate version goes something like this:
"Caga tió,
tió de Nadal,
no caguis arengades,
que són massa salades
caga torrons
que són més bons!"
Shit log,
log of Christmas,
don't shit herrings,
which are too salty,
shit nougats (turrón)
which are much better!

At this point the kids wack Tio SUPER hard and he poops out small gifts. (The blanket that has been covering him is removed to reveal his feces these joyful gifts) They are usually communal gifts to share. Things that I would say are stocking stuffers-- Candies and gadgets. HOW EXCITING IS THAT? Look at these books I found int he store. They tell the story of Caga Tio. It's kinda like your "The Night Before Christmas" book you grew up with. 

This is a book with CD. We mustn't neglect to pass on these songs to the new generations of children, who anxiously await Tio's deification.

This is a picture of me with Caga Tio. He is kinda cute, right?

 This is the more commercialized Caga tio. You can buy him in any store here. I took this picture at the mall the other day.

Oh... and you know when you went to the mall as a kid at Christmas time that you got to go to Santa's workshop and stand in line and then sit on his lap! You could get your pictures taken as you whispered in the ear of Saint Nick all of your heart's desires! He would of course listen, and if you promised him to behave well, he would bring you a gift from your list!

Well.... While at the mall the other day, my eye caught hold of his little area..... This is Caga tio! Notice the backdrop and the cameras. Yes-- YOU CAN SIT ON CAGA TIO! You can whisper in his ear your heart's desires, and if you are a good boy or girl, he will poop them for you! (only after you beat him with a stick--naturally!). I will have to return to the Mall when Caga Tio is open for pictures.
 So with all these crazy traditions, what are the Techera's doing?

Well, we are pretty boring. We bought a traditional Christmas tree (mini) and decorated it with  blue and silver. Ulises didn't want too much red and green because it clashes with our house (......yeah.....) Then I was informed by my sister that silver and blue are Chanukkah colors. But Jesus was a Jew so we think its ok.

I will get a better picture once we have lights. This picture was taken with my flash and so it isn't as 'magical'. We will buy lights next week.

And look, our first nativity set! It's plastic...... But it's complete! Someday we will get a really nice set but this does it for now. And look at how spacious that stable is. Jesus had vaulted ceilings!

I also made lots of snow flakes ( again the silver and blue) and hung them on our naked walls. After Christmas we might actually paint our Apartment.

 This is our heater ( think fireplace) with our stockings hanging there ( how appropriate). Now these are Red. But I was tired of just silver and blue so red it was! They are fashioned out of an old travel blanket I found in the closet. DIY christmas! hehehe. These babies will be precious to us years from now when we look back on our first Christmas together. (Also, notice Ulises red snowflake. I taught him now to make a snowflake and this is how it turned out. Cute, right? Please congratulate him)

So Merry Christmas, Friends! I hope you are enjoying this season. I am missing home and all things familiar ( Neighbors bringing sugary treats,Choirs on temple square, service projects galore, the salvation army bell ringers, stores actually playing Christmas music instead of Lady Gaga, hearing "Merry Christmas", all the old Christmas TV specials, and the list goes on) but am enjoying making memories with my husband on our first Christmas together. It's really beautiful to do things together just the two of us, and establish some traditions! I think Ulises is already getting sick of the amount of Christmas music I play here. It will be a humble, but beautiful and wonderful Christmas! Maybe Ulises will cook me 'ham' again....but that's another story for another day.....


  1. Wow! Who knew! Id be pretty homesick also but glad you are enjoying making memories! I find these traditions hilarious but I'm sure ours are funny to other cultures as well. Hope you have a great Christmas!

  2. love this, so funny! what a cultural difference :)

  3. Very interesting. Only in Spain :) Merry Christmas! Love the update.

  4. Love the cultural differences! ;)

  5. This is completely fantastic. I feel like I missed out on so much fun in my childhood. I'll take any excuse to smack a log! Glad to see you are doing well, Mary!