We are back from Barcelona- I didn’t write anything while I was there and I realizing now the importance of putting pen to paper while the experience is still fresh. There is one thing I want to write about immediately- I realize that its almost the end of November and might be too late to start discussing Christmas but I feel its my duty to warn anyone visiting Barcelona this holiday about their Nativity scenes. Feces seem to play a large part in a Catalan Christmas.
Nativity scenes around the world have the same basic elements, a Christ child in swaddling clothes lying in a manger, a calm Mary- looking as dapper as a woman that just gave birth can and a very confused Joseph still trying to sort it all out. “Wait…what?” So your saying …what?” You will usually find an assortment of farm animals and of course 3 kings bearing gifts that no child would want and, depending on how much your family watched TV, perhaps a little drummer boy serenading the child- because nothing will help a newborn lull off to bed quicker than a drum solo.
If you visit a Catalan around the holidays look closely in their nativity scene, among the sheep and trumpeting angels you will find a man smoking a pipe, his pants will be down around his ankles and he will be defecating. He is called “El Caganer”- which translates to “the one who shits.” The instructions, and yes it comes with instructions, tells us that
“The Caganer should be placed away from the Nativity scene… usually tucked away under a bridge or in a remote area”
Apparently in Barcelona the Nativity scenes include a bridge and are large enough to have what might be classified as “a remote area.” The Caganer has been a part of the Catalan tradition since the 17 Century. Laura, our hot Catalan hostess, explained that it symbolizes that even as Jesus was being born life still went on and people were still defecating. This sounds like a woman being asked to explain why there is a man shitting in her Nativity scene and she realizes she isn’t really sure why and she had better come up with something quick.
In keeping with the defecating spirit there is also a delightful character named El Cagatio, which translates to “The Shit Log”, it’s a small log with a face painted one end and again a pipe. Children place food in front of the Shit Log before they go to bed. It’s important to load Shit Log up with food, as you will see. Each night the parents replace the log with a larger log and remove the food- this gives the impression that the log is getting larger. (Oh lord why did I begin this story?) On Christmas Eve the Shit Log is covered with a towel and beat unmercifully with sticks by the children. After beating the log the children run through the house chanting
“Shit Log, Shit Log, Shit out candy for us!”
The towel is removed and they find that the log has expelled a large pile of candy and toys from its bowels. Whoever said violence never achieved anything clearly has never beaten a log to within an inch of its miserable life.
This Christmas Kelly and I will be visiting family in Brussels, but my heart will be in Barcelona, beating the shit out of a log and searching for the shitting man under the bridge in a remote area of the Nativity scene.