Friday, December 23, 2011

El Caganer: A Lovely Spanish Creche Tradition

You gotta love off-the-wall holiday traditions. The Swedes have their day-long Donald Duck TV show marathon on Christmas Eve (no, seriously) and the Germans and Austrians have the Krampus. But one of the most unique just has to be el caganer of the traditional Spanish nativity scene.

"Merry Christmas! Sh*tter was full!" 
What is the caganer you might ask? Well, quite literally, it is a person... ummm... (how can I put this delicately? - Oh good, my nine-year-old son looking over my shoulder as I type this helped me out: "Just put it's a guy taking a poo.").

Fine then. It is a guy taking a poo. There ya go.

Yep, really. Merry Christmas, huh?

No Spanish creche is considered complete without the caganer. They say it first appeared in the Catalan region of Spain in the 17th century. There, the creche traditionally depicts a miniature of many buildings in Bethlehem (not just the stable/cave). There are also many villagers depicted going about their day-to-day activities (washings clothes in a stream, selling goods in a market, etc.) And somewhere, tucked away in the bustle, usually hidden discreetly, is the caganer, pants down and doing his business.

I know many of us would find it a bit distasteful, but it's a long-standing tradition in Spain and even in some areas of Portugal and Naples. It's traditional for children to try and find the caganer. The classic caganer is dressed in traditional Catalan folk attire, complete with a red barretina, but in some families, they've moved to having the caganer based on a modern celebrity (If you wonder what I'm talking about, just google "Barack Obama caganer.")

So, as you trudge through these last couple of days of holiday madness, just remember that it could be worse: you could be el caganer, bottom bared for the world to see, performing the one bodily function that could even despoil the serenity of the birth of our Savior. Maybe the lesson to take from this post is that you want to make the holidays as easy as you can for your family: don't complain, don't moan or whine - just be pleasant and helpful. Because, all in all, no one wants to be the caganer in the creche.