Thursday, December 6, 2007

Will It Poo on Christmas?

Warning: This post is the opposite of appetizing.

My Spanish teacher Marta, in her endearing way, has been warning us for months that the Catalans* are a scatological people. That is, they are obsessed with number two. Apparently, as far as humour goes, the brown is to a Catalan what Jerry Lewis is to a Frenchman: a laugh riot.

In Catalunya, dropping the kids off at the pool has even infiltrated holiday tradition. In the days leading up to Christmas, you can witness this for yourself at the Feria de Santa Lucia (Fira de Santa Llucia in Catalan), which takes place outside of Barcelona's cathedral.

During the Feria, endless stalls fill the cathedral square, each one selling a different type of Navidad related item: some have Christmas trees, some nativity scenes, some Christmas lights, some mistletoe, some pine cones, some holly, some religious icons. There's a lot to look at. For my money, however, the two most interesting objects are figures representing the caganer (pictured above) and the caga tió.

Linguistically, the caganer and the caga tió share the same root: cagar. Or, as we say en inglés, to poo. The caganer, in Catalan, is literally "the one who poos". His squatting figure (now sometimes in the form of a famous or infamous personage) is placed alongside Jesus, Mary and Joseph in the nativity scene. Actually, traditionally, the caganer is hidden behind a tree, as is appropriate for one doing his business in the presence of divinity. Just so no one misses the point, however, the caganer's squishy gift is fully rendered and ready for burial under a pile of leaves (the leaves are my wishful thinking and are not actually depicted).

So why represent the crassest of bodily functions on the holiest of Christian holidays, you might ask. Is it sheer irreverence and affinity for all things dookie? Probably not. As I understand it, the explanation can be found in Catalunya's agrarian roots: specifically, the caganer symbolizes the return to the earth of everything that comes from the earth; his impressive heap is a symbol of fertility. This I was told by the vendor who sold me one of the pooping figurines for my private collection.

The caga tió, on the other hand, is itself a log. A literal log that drops figurative ones in the form of Christmas presents. Specifically, the caga tió is a round piece of tree trunk with a painted face and a traditional red hat. On Christmas Eve, in lieu of leaving milk and cookies out for Santa Claus, eager Catalan children tap the caga tió with a stick and ask it to defecate gifts from under its mantle. The children sing a song that, loosely translated, goes a little something like this: Caga tió, hazelnuts and turrones, don't caca herring, which are too salty, caca turrones which are are more tasty. Thus encouraged, the caga tió lays it down Navidad style.

All in all, the whole thing gives a new dimension to the phrase crappy Christmas gifts.

I regret to tell you that I will not be in Barcelona to witness the caganer and the caga tió in action on Navidad itself. I will, however, do what I can to bring you as much Navidad related fun as I can before I head back to Canada for the holidays, whether it involves taking the Browns to the Super Bowl, eating dust based desserts or sacrificing myself at the altar of the turrones.

* I may not have mentioned this before, but Barcelona is located in the heart of Catalunya, a region in the north of Spain. The people of Catalunya (Catalans) speak their own language (Catalan) in addition to speaking Castellano (the Spanish dialect that is spoken in Spain and Latin America) and have a culture and traditions distinct from those in other regions of Spain. While many of my posts refer to customs and traditions common to Catalunya and elsewhere in Spain, those described in this post are Catalan alone.


sarah said...

Fabulous! This is your best blog entry yet - I must have one of these, can you bring one back for me?

Barcelona Food Girl said...

Will try!

Diana said...

We had the best Christmas in Barcelona in 2000 with mad Irishmen and an ethereal Icelandic... and one of the best mementos is our own defecating figurine... it was so hard to choose him above all the others, but we went for a fisherman in the end. He's pulling his pants down with one hand and holding his basket of fish aloft with the other - now that's a kind of dexterity that really helps avert disaster...!! The artist has even thoughtfully parted his cheeks with a distinct bum hole - possibly derived with a well-placed skewer... And the offering itself is... well, a perfect dark spiral of fertiliser... The theme is nicely continued by the size of his... well, his sack. Lots more little fishes apparently swimming around in there... the whole effect is mesmerising, and we delight in getting him out every year.

Jon Kay said...

This is good -- column worthy