There are many European Christmas traditions that I admire, such as lighting the yule log, leaving your shoes out for St. Nicholas (Holland), and attending midnight mass. And then, there are traditions that I find just plain strange, like giving someone a fruitcake for a gift and hiding all of your brooms for fear of Christmas witches (Norway). But the most bizarre custom that I have encountered has to be from Spain – the Catalan region of Spain to be exact.
Like most Christians around the world, those in Northern Spain love to celebrate Christmas with the universal symbol of the nativity scene. However, along with Baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, all of the animals and shepherds, and wisemen, there is another figure that pops into the nativity quite often. This figure can be a man or women, old or young, and can look like celebrities, politicians, or other public figures. But, one thing all of these figures have in common is that the figure is always shown squatting as if they are – to put it politely – going to the potty. And you thought Mr. Hankey was bad!
That’s right, whether it’s a man or woman, President Obama or a Nun, these figures are portrayed dropping their drawers for all of humanity, complete with the end product of their behavior (please don’t make me spell it out for you).
Although mainly scene in Catalonia in Spain, this potty crasher, known as a caganer, has been a part of culture since the 17th century. It is not known the exact reason why people started adding this party pooper to their holiday decor, but wikipedia offers several fun explanations, including:
- Finding the Caganer is a fun game for children
- The statue is seen as fertilizing the Earth
- It represents the equality of all humans
- It reinforces that Jesus was human
- It’s just sick humor
Originally portrayed as a peasant in a red hat, the modern-day caganers have been modified to resemble the likeness of celebrities, famous or infamous political figures, and specific professions, such as doctors, priests, etc.
And, surprisingly, Spain is not the only country that finds this little mooning man humorous. Similar figures can be seen in France, Holland, and Germany.
Thankfully, this European tradition has not made its way to the South Park and Family Man-watching United States – we do have our standards after all.