Celebrating Christmas the Catalan Way

At first glance, a Catalonian Nativity Scene looks like any other one might encounter during the Christmas Season: the figure of a newly born Jesus in a manger looked upon by his adoring parents, a shepherd or two, and a few docile animals. A Christmas angel may hover over the scene and the Three Wise Men might pop in to deliver the same gifts they give every year, or they may not, depending on preference or budget or display space availability. But if you peer around the corner, just outside this scene of solemn and miraculous birth, you’ll find another, more surprising figure: a little man in a red cap squatting low to the ground, his trousers pulled down low to give his buttocks a good airing.

What, you may ask, is this little man doing in such a position, so near to one of the most Glorious moments in the Christian tradition? He’s taking an enormous dump. And His name is, quite straightforwardly, El Caganer (“The Shitter”).

El Caganer has been doing his business behind the manger for a very long time. It is thought he first crept into the scene sometime in the late 17th or early 18th Century and has now eclipsed perhaps even the Christ child himself in terms of figurative affection. Celebrity caganers are also popular. Miniature Donalds Trump and Margarets Thatcher, for example, have been found crapping in Spanish homes for years.

And still there is another dung-related Christmas tradition from this particular region of Spain. It involves the feeding and general care by children of the Caga Tió (“Shit Log”) from the Feast of The Immaculate Conception (December 8th) until Christmas Eve, when the youngsters then beat the log with sticks as they sing songs about the presents it will excrete for them from its back passage. They next remove the blanket they once covered him with so lovingly to reveal the booty he has delivered. It is then that this revelry turns murderous as the children (or perhaps their parents) tossed this fecal Giving Tree onto the fire for their own, selfish warmth.

The Catalonians really, really know how to do Christmas right. Especially appropriate this season, I think.

This plague year we call 2020 has been an absolute steaming pile of excrement. I think it’s for this reason in particular that I have become so taken with the Catalonian tradition. I’ve never gone in much for Holiday décor and I certainly have neither the surface space, religious zeal, nor the budget to allow for a complete Nativity Scene in my 1-bedroom apartment, but I felt Ihad to have one. So I went small. I went practical. I went marzipan. At least, I thought, I’ll be able to eat my caganer when I’ve finished with him.

I have no recipe for you. I don’t even suggest that you try this for yourself. I simply looked up “edible caganer” on the internet one day and discovered that it is not a thing that exists. It could be for the simple reason that creating crouching figures out of marzipan are (please forgive) a pain in the ass.

Mine hardly looks as if he is straining at stool. He merely looks depressed. His shirt is of a non-traditional green because there is no such thing as pure white marzipan. HIs black trousered legs began to concertina beneath the weight of his confectionery body. The neck had a tendency to bend slowly forward as though he wished to hang his head in shame or resignation or both. I kept having to keep his chin up in order to be photographed. His dull, dark eyes stare out at nothing in particular. It was simultaneously amusing and disturbing to realize that I had just made a miniature almond paste version of myself. Except that this figure looks better in hats than I do. But now I had a caganer , he was all mine, and that was oddly comforting for some reason to which I have yet to attach any deeper meaning.

I haven’t written much this year, I know. The thought of doing so just felt too painful. The amount of tragedy, evil, and uncaring incompetence unleashed upon the globe this year took a heavy toll. And writing charming and snarky little food posts when there is so much suffering just doesn’t seem right. But I wanted to give you something to see out the year. I feel I owe you all at least that.

And I want to thank you, you dear freaking wonderful readers, for staying with me and even reaching out in my prolonged absences this year*. I’d like to wish you the happiest of possible Holidays, even though I think we all know that’s very unlikely. But most of us, hopefully, will struggle through this nightmare and survive and I want to think I’ll be there on the other side to greet you.

In the meantime, I am so looking forward to flushing this absolute shit of a year down the toilet bowl of history. My plunger is at the ready. I hope yours is, too, because we’re gonna need ’em. Maybe I’ll make a little one for my marzipan Mini Me. He’s just resting in the kitchen where his body has responded so much to gravity and the ambient heat of the stove as to cause his sad little head to droop and rest on the cool granite countertop, doing nothing in particular. He merely exists and I no longer feel I have the right to snuff out his life by eating him.

*To my horror and shame, I just discovered several wonderful comments that are weeks and months old, which I will now most apologetically respond to.


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About Michael Procopio

I write about food and am very fond of Edward Gorey. And gin.
This entry was posted in Holidays, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Celebrating Christmas the Catalan Way

  1. Gayle Leslie says:

    Thank you for you genius writing. Your talent even radiates from your shit story. I loved every word. Merry merry Christmas to you.

  2. Sarah says:

    Your words are always welcome! Every snarky distraction was welcome this year.

  3. Carrie says:

    Sheer perfection!! I think you’ve captured all of our sentiments for 2020… with one image!

  4. Laura Clow says:

    Thank you for a Covid Christmas chuckle, your writing is wonderful!

  5. Anne Taylor says:

    Hello Michael,
    You called it. It has been a totally shitty year. We can hope for a less shitty 2021, thanks to a new and competent administration and newly formulated vaccines. Have yourself a merry little Christmas.

  6. Anne Taylor says:

    Hi Michael,
    You called it. It has been a totally shitty year. We can hope for a less shitty 2021, thanks to a new and competent administration and newly formulated vaccines. Have yourself a merry little Christmas.

  7. Jan Morrison says:

    And here I am in Nova Scotia, in our little house by the sea, feeling quite happy actually. Is one allowed to feel happy? The days are short but the light when here quite brilliant. We have a weird stunted tree from the bottom of our drive. I’ve lived so long on the east coast that I actually like the spindly Christmas trees here. I’m baking and making (shit) loads of candy and pigs in blankets. I have about 15 new (to me) books to read – some gifts (I’m a solstice child) and some from spending a couple of hours (masked) in an old bookstore. We’ve been spared the worst the pandemic has brought being somewhat isolated and few in numbers. I cannot see my grandkids but this will pass. And so will the energy guzzling nit-twit on January 20th. Or so I like to believe. Oh … and another positive is my radiant beautiful brilliant pals, you amongst them, who share their hearts so generously, even when feeling crap. Thank you for the gift of you and love to your teeny shitting masterpiece. Tell him to squat tall and be proud of his offering.

    • Jan,

      You are allowed to feel happy when and where you can find the opportunity, spindly trees and all. My caganer’s posture is getting worse by the day. Still tucked away at the back of the kitchen counter, just behind the fruit bowl. There is no longer a chance to correct his posture without damaging his marzipan spinal chord further. But I’ll tell him he should be proud of his good work.

      Merry Christmas to you.

  8. Alles says:

    According to the immortal Jethro Bodine (of Beverly Hillbillies fame, natch), “You gotta suffer for your art!.”
    Out of the Spanish Flu (that started in Nebraska) came the Roaring 20’s.
    Out of the late 70’s London riots came punk and new wave.
    This year has had an extra shiv for many of us — above and beyond the pandemic. Let’s give ourselves credit for making do when that was all we had left. Even Judy Garland tells us we’ll “…muddle through somehow.”
    Happy HannaMaKwanzMasStice and here’s to health & art in the new year! #xoxo

  9. Lynne Rees says:

    Never has the expression ‘Shit happens’ been so appropriate. And this has been a personal year of ill health and family loss on top of all the Covid-crap. But I still want to be that big fat cliche of ‘a glass half full’ – there is kindness, there is the light of vaccines, there is love – even if I have to work harder at being it than I did before.

    Today is making canneles (I can’t get an accent on the last e – damn) and I can’t think of anything better to sweeten my and other people’s hearts. Stay safe.

    Wishing you good things in 2021. Nadolig Llawen. Blwyddyn Newydd Dda. x

    • Lynne,

      It saddens me to hear about your year, and yet I do admire your positive outlook aspirations. I frequently find that a challenge these days, but I will attempt it myself.

      I love cannelés (if you hold the “e” button down on your keyboard long enough, all the accent choices should appear to you, at least they do on my mac.). I was once in a patisserie in a small southern French town where I asked the madame at the counter for 6 “cannelés de Bordeaux. My friend Pam, who lived there, quietly mentioned that, since we were, in fact, in the Bordeaux region, I could simply refer to them as “cannelés” and leave it at that.

      Boed i’ch dyddiau fod yn llawen ac yn ddisglair. <-- Did Goggle translate get that right?

  10. Amanda says:

    As always.perfect.the gnome of shit is 2020 Personified.
    Keep well,we all cherish you.

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