|Christmas in Catalunya
||[ Tuesday, 06 Dec 05 | 10:54 ]
A Caganer is a little statue unique to Catalunya, and neighbouring areas with Catalan influence such as Andorra.
In Catalunya, as in most of Spain, the traditional Christmas decoration is a large model of the city of Bethlehem, similar to American Nativity scenes that encompasses the entire city rather than just the typical manger scene. The Catalans have added an extra character that is not found in the manger scenes of any other culture. In addition to Mary, Joseph, Jesus, shepherds and company, Catalans have the character known as the Caganer. This extra little character is often tucked away in some corner of the model, typically nowhere near the manger scene, where he is not easily noticed. There is a good reason for his obscure position in the display, because caganer means "defecator", and that is exactly what this little statue is doing—defecating.
The reasons for placing a man who is in the act of excreting solid waste from his posterior in a scene which is widely considered holy are as follows:
- The Caganer, by creating feces, is fertilizing the Earth. Thus, he is considered a symbol of prosperity and luck for the coming year.
- Finding the Caganer is a fun game, for children of all ages.
The exact origin of the Caganer is lost, but the tradition has existed since the 18th century. Originally, the Caganer was portrayed as a peasant wearing a traditional hat called a barretina—a red stocking hat with a black band.
This tradition has modified somewhat since the 1940s. In addition to the traditional caganer design, you can find other characters assuming the caganer position, such as nuns, devils, Santa Claus, celebrities, athletes, historical figures, politicians, Spanish royalty, and other famous people past and present, including prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and George W Bush.
The practice is tolerated by the local Catholic church. Caganers are easiest to find before Christmas in holiday markets, like the one in front of the Barcelona cathedral, which has tables and tables of caganers. Caganers have even been featured in art exhibits.
Last weekend I shopped at El Corte Inglés at Plaça Catalunya. Up on the 8th floor they had a bunch of holiday decorations. In the nativity scene area they had about 4 different Caganers intermixed with all the other figures. They were all of the traditional variety, no sport figures or politicians.
I could collect a few Caganers instead of salt and pepper shakers or stuffed bears. There's even a site that you can buy them at: www.caganer.com
Other mentions of feces and defecation are common in Catalan folklore. One popular Catalan phrase before eating says Menja bé, caga fort! (Eat well, shit strong!).