Friday, December 21, 2007
The Nativity Crapper
Look closely at a Nativity scene in the Catalan region of Spain, and you’re likely in for a surprise.
Hidden somewhere — away from the manger and the prying eyes of shepherd and magi — there’s probably a little guy in a red cap. He’s squatting and … well, he’s defecating. Taking a little poop. Or perhaps a rather large one.
You’ve found the caganer: the crapper.
A Spanish Tradition
It’s rude, earthy, and distinctly Catalan. The market stalls of Barcelona are crammed with caganer figurines, squatting shamelessly alongside statues of St. Francis and the Holy Family. Parties are held where guests are invited to find the cagoner in the family creche. Not even the Roman Catholic Church dares to suppress the custom on its own grounds.
People have tried. In 2005, Barcelona passed an ordinance banning the caganer in public displays. It was rescinded by the following Christmas.
The origins of the custom are obscure. Some authorities suggest the caganer started showing his bum in the 18th century. It’s quite possible the caganer has been around a century or two longer. Ask five Spaniards what the caganer actually means, and you’ll be given five different answers. Perhaps it is a reminder of humankind’s ultimate lowliness. Or the juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane. Maybe Catalans just appreciate a good laugh over the holidays.
There’s certainly a satire element. Starting in the early 20th century, the traditional red-capped caganer started to be replaced by figurines of well-known politicians, entertainers — even clergy. King Juan Carlos is captured doing his royal business. George W. Bush squats with a globe in his hand. Pope Benedict gives ex cathedra a whole new meaning.
More from The Crapping Christmas Statues of Catalonia