This year I spent Christmas with the Catalan side of my family. In case you didn’t know, Catalonia is an autonomous region of Spain and Barcelona is the regional capital. They have their own unique culture, part of the reason they voted for independence from the rest of Spain.
A Catalonian Christmas is rather different to a British one: there are no crackers, stockings or turkey, instead you’ll find caga… a lot of it.
Caga is the Catalan word for shit, or poo if you prefer, here’s how it fits into Christmas:
What character completes a nativity? That’s right, a pooing man. The Caganer (The ‘Shitter’) is the name of a man who can be found squatting in Catalan nativity scenes, usually hidden under a rock or tree, wearing a traditional red hat and smoking a pipe.
In some houses, like mine, the Caganer is moved around routinely and children play a game each morning to hunt down the figure.
Quite why he deserves a place in the scene is unclear. I was told by my family that the Caganer gave a sense of realism and equality to the Bible story because, even though Jesus is being born and angels and wise kings are visiting, everybody defecates.
But other Catalonians will tell you that it is just a joke or that it marks a ‘good harvest’ -the poo symbolises fertiliser and the caganer is giving it to Jesus as a present.
The Caganer has been around since the 18th century, if not earlier and in 2010, a 6 metre tall caganer was installed in Barcelona’s Maremagnum Shopping Centre setting the Guinness World Record for Largest Caganer.
Now you can buy them in all shapes and sizes, from famous footballers to politicians – it’s considered a status symbol.
My David Cameron caganer:
Caga Tio (‘pooing log’) is another Catalan custom where a log is ‘fed’ every night from December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and wrapped in a blanket to keep it warm.
Then, on Christmas day, the log is hit with sticks by children who demand it to poo presents. This assault is accompanied by a charming song that goes something like:
“Caga tió, caga torrons, no caguis arengades, que són massa salades caga torrons que són més bons!” (Poo log, poo nougats (torrons), don’t poo herrings, because they are too salty, poo torrons because they are much better!
Here’s my family doing it this year:
There are different versions of the song but they all contain the command ‘Caga Tio’. Then, children reach under the blanket to retrieve their presents and can repeat the ritual for another round of gifts. Traditionally, a smelly fish is put under the blanket to signal the end of the ‘poos’ and the Tio is burned for warmth.
In short, Catalonians love poo jokes… but if you’re wanting something a little classier, and to celebrate it soon, there’s another quirky festive ritual I love…
Forget about the twelve grapes, New Year’s Eve is all about red underwear.
You must be given the pants as a present from a loved one (it’s my mum who usually buys mine) and, when the clock strikes, you must change into your festive lingerie to guarantee a year of successful love.
If you’ve got your eye on somebody special, you should ring them in the underwear. And, in some saucier families, you have to give your festive underpants away by the end of the night for the charm to work.
So fetch your single friend some red knickers before the night arrives!