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  • The Catalan Caganer December 25, 2010

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    A fascinating book needs to be written – Beachcombing might possibly publish it: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com – on nativity scenes around the world. After all, you can sketch out a geography of Western culture with the way that different regions set out their Xmas scenes.

    From the life-sized North American nativities, to the wooden austerity of Scandinavia Bethlehems, to the ostentation of Sicilian stables, to the defecating figures in a Catalan…

    To the what?!

    The caganer of Catalonia came onto Beachcombing’s radar a couple of years ago and he’s not been able to drive them out of his airspace since. Hopefully this post will help to dispel them – and no, before anyone writes in and asks, Beachcombing is not interested in an example for his own belén.

    The caganer is a squatting figure placed in the large Catalan nativity scenes, involved in what Beachcombing can only describe as ‘toilet’. Prude that Beachcombing is he has only shown a frontal shot above – but the rear views leave nothing to the imagination.

    The caganer today has become – perhaps it always was – a child’s game. Catalan tots are placed in front of the huge hundred-piece cathedral nativities and challenged to find the caganer, literally ‘the shitter’. Beachcombing has been brushing up his own Catalan at the Friends of Caganer site – make sure you have your computer speakers turned on very loud when you visit.

    The Friends claim that the tradition goes back to the eighteenth century and that it was born in the shadow of the baroque.

    Well, who knows? At least no one is claiming that it is a Roman custom or something from Basque pagan temples. Yet…

    Beachcombing was also gratified to see that some modern world leaders have been portrayed as caganer.

    As to the ‘meaning’of the caganer there is a lot of ‘fertility’ talk – not a very baroque sentiment – that Beachcombing finds suspect. Instead, some lines of Auden came to his mind – the everydayness of what Christians hold to be the miracle of the nativity.

    About suffering they were never wrong,

    The Old Masters; how well, they understood

    Its human position; how it takes place

    While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;

    How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting

    For the miraculous birth, there always must be

    Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating

    On a pond at the edge of the wood

    Beachcombing clearly has his reserves about the caganer. Still in these days of the evil Santa Claus, when regional traditions are being eaten alive by the horrid hallucinating bearded one – befana, three kings, babushka… – such anomalies deserve support. Happy Xmas, then, caganer of the world!