Friday, December 16, 2005

El Caganer

I've come a little late to the whole "War on Christmas" debate, but Bill O'Reilly has reminded me why I choose to live in Spain, even if they can't make a decent doughnut to save their lives. Or bagel, as the case may be.

Let's lay aside the obvious, distressing fact that O'Reilly et al are marshalling the great democratic forces of the boycott not to Christianly protest against, say, the atrocities in Darfur or the high cost of AIDS drugs in Africa, or even, and let's be clear here, consumerism itself. Let's leave aside the whole bullying insistence that "the majority celebrate Christmas so the feelings of a few secular humanists and other heathens don't count." Leave aside as well the attack on freedom of speech. Is it not absurd that the judgement of whether a society is secular or religious comes down to what their mega-stores paint on their windows in December?

Here in Spain, they say "feliz navidad" and "felices fiestas" with equal, well, felicity. In fact, the "fiestas"--that would be "holidays"--is perhaps more popular simply because it is more grammatically correct: what we have here is a series of holidays: not just Christmas, but New Year's and Epiphany as well.

Which is not to say that they do away the religious completely. One of the most popular holiday pastimes in Spain is to visit the nativity scenes that are mounted in most every public square and, yes, shop window. These can be very elaborate affairs, not just Jesus and his folks and the kings and a couple of barnyard animals, but whole armies of peasants drawing water from wells, and children playing, and soldiers advancing, all of them dressed in robes and headscarves.

In Catalunya, there is one figure, however, who does not share the vaguely biblical dress: El Caganer. Also known as: The Shitter. Tucked into a corner of the creche, the Caganer squats with his pants around his ankles, a freshly-laid pile of excrement beneath his bare butt. Theories on the meaning of the Caganer abound: he represents primitive nature in the face of the divine; he’s the embodiment of the value Catalans put on the down-to-earth; he is another example of the important place of shit in Catalan folk culture.

And although most caganers wear traditional Catalan dress, in the past few years, it has become popular to shape them so that they resemble the most significant people of the year—part homage, part mockery. So while last year’s big stars in the caganer line-up were Felipe and Letizia (they married in May 2004), this year it is their newborn, Leonor, who will be taking a crap in crèches throughout Catalonia. Leonor, and George W. Bush. Perhaps the best-known group of caganer artisans use their website to ask clients to nominate the year’s new figures, and this year, President Bush was their choice. I wonder what Bill O'Reilly would have to say about that.

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1 comment:

ian llorens said...

All "caganers" in Catalonia, even in a concerted effort, cannot match the amount of shit that Foxnews spreads daily. And please, do not use the term shit when referring to the Catalan culture. You are Americans and should well know that shit through the eufemistic and puritan American filter turns into "environmental friendly Catalan waste".