Rev. Warlock DRACONIS BLACKTHORNE (dblackthorne) wrote,

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"El Caganer"

El Caganer

Local traditions can often seem a little bizarre to outsiders, as is well known, but nothing compares to the scatological fun that is to be had in Catalonia around yuletide. When we explain these peculiar rites to visiting friends, they usually refuse to believe us until they go out on the streets and see it for themselves.


In Spain, as in Ireland, it has always been a tradition to put a model of the manger under the Christmas tree, complete with small figurines of Mary, Joseph, shepherds, sundry animals and God Jr. himself, the adoree, lying supine in his crib. We all have childhood memories of taking December walks in order to collect the moss and twigs that are needed to give the little setting a touch of realism. The most impressive mangers (pesebres) I have ever seen were in the centre of Naples where ateliers occupying several small streets were completely dedicated to crafting the most beautiful and elaborate miniature nativity scenes for the discerning local households.

But the Catalans go one better.

There is one extra figurine in the Catalan manger that you won’t find anywhere else in the world, the Caganer, the ‘Shitter’ to be precise. In the corner of the manger you have a model figure dressed in traditional Catalan garb, with his trousers round his ankles, squatting down and taking a dump. He is supposed to represent good health, fortune and fertility although to the untrained eye, he just seems to represent some guy crapping on the ground a few yards away from the newborn son of God.

You can see why nativity plays never really caught on in the schools over here.

But that’s not all. The typical caganer is dressed mostly in white and wears a ‘barretina’ on his head. This is the type of floppy hat that the extras wear in bad Hollywood productions of the French Revolution. However, there is a new trend to collect celebrity caganers, so you can now find squatting little figures of politicians, famous football players, singers, actors and, although it initially caused a huge scandal, members of the Spanish royal family. It is certainly a curious and endearing little custom although I can’t see it ever catching on in Utah.

Now if there were just one defecation-related Christmas accessory over here, you could just about accept it. But what if there were two? Do you believe in coincidences?


The 6th of January is known as the Kings’ Day, when the three wise Magi were supposed to have arrived at the manger having been guided GPS-style by a wandering star. There they regaled the infant Christ with all their duty free shopping, well at least the gold, frankincense and myrrh. The cartons of Lucky Strike and bottles of Johnny Walker they kept for themselves. This is therefore the more traditional day to give gifts over here, not Christmas day as it is in the more Anglo-Saxon cultures.

However there is an exception to this rule. On Christmas Day Catalan children are lucky enough to receive turrón (a delicious bar of solid candy that tastes a little like extruded sweet peanut butter) and small gifties from their favourite uncle. The Cagatío (or ‘Uncle Shit’) is a small log of wood about a foot long. A smiling Thomas-the-Tank-Engine face is painted on one end and two little pegs are inserted underneath it so it looks like it’s propping itself up on it’s forelegs. As a final touch, a barretina is placed above the face and voila. You have yourself a working Cagatío.

On the evenings leading up to the Christmas, children put a plate of food under Cagatío’s face before going up to bed. Why? Because the more Cagatío eats, the more gifts and candy he’ll be able to give you when the time comes, Silly. The parents take the food away before they go to bed and tell the children that the smiling lump of wood gobbled it up overnight. You can probably see where this is going.

Before continuing I should perhaps reiterate that I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP.

Then comes Christmas Eve and things really start getting weird. The Cagatío is covered with a dishcloth or towel and the kids are given long sticks. Then on the count of three the children start walloping the log while singing a song that goes something like:

"Uncle Shit, good Uncle Shit. Shit out candy for us!"

After a few minutes of flaying the bark off their inanimate benefactor and chanting their poop song, the little ones are sent off to bed. The parents take the poor brutalised Uncle out from under the dishcloth and replace it with gifts and sweets. The next day the rug rats wake to find that their Uncle is no longer under the cloth but has skipped town. Nevertheless, thanks to all the plates of food and the sound thrashing that they gave him, he managed leave a bunch of goodies in his wake. Hell the guy’s practically MADE of roughage.

Neither of these traditions belong to a strange bran-eating sect of Christianity, they are in fact standard practices for common or garden local Catholics. So what is it with these people that associate the festive winter season so much with bowel movements? Beats me.

Optional: For those times when you cannot acquire this wooden "yule log" for whatever reason, a coffee can will do. Simply attach the face to the 'butt' end of the can {or painted directly onto the metal}, with the previously 'open' end reversed. Insert desired candy inside, & re-attach plastic cover. Prop up with 'forelegs', which may be constructed with a paper roll cut to size, held with tape or glue. Adorn the tio with a suitable 'shawl' {material of choice, and/or 'hat'}. Remove plastic seal to release, & enjoy.

Aesthetically, consider the medieval paintings of Hell Mouth & "soul eater" depictions.

* Related: The Dark Side of xmas.

Tags: comedy, holidays, xmas

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