Christmas is almost upon us once more and it’s the time of year when most people in the western world look to celebrate capitalism by tying it in to the traditional Christian celebrations. In certain parts of Europe, particularly Spain, those traditional celebrations include a lot more defecation and excrement than most readers might expect.
A friend of mine has just returned from a business trip to Seville in southern Spain and brought me back a superb piece of traditional Spanish Christmas celebrations, a small figurine of a crouching bumpkin crimping off his very own yuletide log. The little figure, about three inches in height, is commonly placed in nativity scenes depicting the birth of Jesus Christ in a lowly barn in Bethlehem. Along with more obvious characters such as the virgin Mary, Joseph, three wise men and shepherds in many Spanish homes there will also be crouching in the corner a shitting man. The Christmas pooper is called a ‘caganer‘, this translates simply as ‘the defecator’, which sounds like a superhero or wrestler’s name. The defecator is thought to have its origins in Catalonia, north-east Spain, where it has appeared in nativity scenes since at least the 17th century but may be even older.
A traditional Catalan nativity includes more than just the typical scene around the manger, apparently placing the defecator right under the noses of Mary and Joseph, taking a crunch in the straw, would be seen as disrespectful and the caganer is usually placed outside the stable and can be found emptying his bowels in a more private place. A Catalan nativity actually incorporates a whole village area depicting many characters going about their daily business, the caganer is just one more of these characters and he’s usually placed in a discreet area such as under a bridge or round the back of a tavern, where people would have historically stopped for a crafty dump. In fact part of the tradition is for children to try and find the caganer‘s hiding place as he eliminates his seasonal stool.
But why is the Christmas crapper included at all? There are a number of different theories, one of the most commonly believed is that the caganer is a fertility symbol, as his rich excrement would fertilise the land. According to local superstition if a farmer ever neglected to add the pooping-peasant to his nativity scene the following year’s harvest would be ruined. Another widely held belief is that the caganer depicts how all men are equal, no matter how lowly or important we are we all need to take a crap.
That is all well and good, but how on Earth does that explain this, a grinning Christmas ‘log’ which shits out prizes.
The ‘Tió de Nadal‘, more popularly known as ‘Caga Tió‘ or ‘shitting log‘ is a hollowed out log which is filled with small gifts and covered with a blanket to keep warm. On Christmas Day in most Catalan homes the shitting log is placed in the unused fireplace and ordered to ‘shit’! If the threat of being burned isn’t enough children encourage the log to defecate his candy treats by beating him with sticks whilst singing appropriate songs. A typical Tió de Nadal song would contain these lyrics:
hazelnuts and cottage cheese,
if you don’t shit well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
As the log is beaten a selection of small edible treats fall from its rear-end and are greedily eaten by the children. The Caga Tió is clearly a variant of the Yule log, but unlike here in Britain where the log has transformed into a delicious chocolate cake the Spaniards have stuck more closely to its faeces connotations.
South Park‘s wonderful character ‘Mr Hankey the Christmas Poo’ no longer seems quite so ridiculous, it would appear that Christmas turds have been with us for centuries!