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.