In the square in front of the cathedral, the Christmas market has arrived. The Catalans are very keen on making small nativity scenes for their homes, and most of the stalls in the market sell little figures – the shepherds, Mary and Joseph, the wise men, baby Jesus and, of course, a man with his pants around his ankles and a warm smile on his face, cranking out a nice big poo onto the ground.
This little chap is the caganer (in Catalan, or cagador in Spanish), meaning ‘the crapper’, and he has been a feature of the Pessebre, the Catalan nativity scene, for hundreds of years. Generations of children have looked at the nativity scene in each other’s homes and exclaimed “Look! There he is! The shitting man! Ha ha ha!” And their grandparents have smiled and given them sweets for being so clever.
But the caganer is not the only wonderful Catalan tradition you can buy at the market. Many English people burn a large log, the Yule log, at Christmas time, and over here, too, they have a special log. The tió de Nadal (Christmas log) is hollowed, given legs and a smiling face and wrapped up a nice warm blanket. They then ‘feed’ this little chap every night from the 8th of December until Christmas Day, when he earns his more popular name: caga tió, the shitting log. In what must be one of the most beautiful Yuletide traditions of anywhere in the world, the log is sung to, threatened with fire and beaten with sticks until he shits out the delicious treats that have been hidden inside his hollow body – nuts, sweets and torróns, bars of Christmas nougat. When caga tió has nothing left to give, he craps out a salted herring.
Apparently a massive caga tió is being constructed directly in front of the cathedral, and I literally cannot wait to join the crowds singing and beating him with sticks this year. It is heartwarming indeed to know that while endless incitements to go shopping and appalling music may have robbed Christmas of much of its magic, the simple joy of a nice big turd remains free to all*.
*Well, most of us – let’s not forget the faecally impacted this Advent, and pray that Baby Jesus brings them a movement, or at least a gifted bottom-doctor.
There he is! And he's crapping like a champion!
The defecating log of Christmas