Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Bon Nadal

About a month ago I was 100% set to go to Munich for Christmas with a “friend” from one of my Spanish classes. She had invited me to spend Christmas with her and her family and I was elated to experience a real German Christmas with the malt wine, the Christmas tress, the lights, the gifts, the traditional food. Heck, the Germans do Christmas better than we do! Of course, with my luck, 2 weeks later my “friend” bails on me saying that she has decided to go on a ski trip with a close friend outside of Munich and thus can’t house me anymore. Attempting to put my bitterness aside for the sake of a positive Christmas blog I will just say this – in short, I was stranded in Munich with a non-refundable ticket on Christmas Eve, with nowhere to stay. So, I had two choices; 1.) Be brave and adventurous and get on that plane, find a nice youth hostel in Munich and pray that I ran into other Christmas orphans like myself, OR, 2.) Let the ticket go, stay in Sant Llorenc (where it’s warm) with my Spanish friends and family. Taking in all advice, I chose the latter. In the spirit of Christmas, I knew that my sole worry was simply the loss of the money from the ticket thus, coming to the conclusion that money can’t be everything…it is always better to be with loved ones on special days like Christmas.

But, the Catalans did not disappoint and I had a jam-packed weekend! Whereas the Americans gather on Christmas Day for celebrations, the Spanish decide to make it just one huge 3-day party. The meals are never-ending – hors d’oeuvres, first plate, second plate, third plate, dessert, coffee (and still Grandma is telling me to have a bit more, “she made it from scratch”…“oh, ok Grandma, what the heck.”) And then you do it all again the next day. I drank so much wine and Cava (Catalan champagne) and ate so much Christmas Eve that I was nearly immobilized on Christmas Day. Aside from my mild case of Gastroenteritis (such a rooky Catalan Christmas celebrater), I was able to experience a lot of  traditions with my Spanish family. Although the Catalonians don’t celebrate with present opening, eggnog and watching re-runs of holiday Christmas classics on TNT, they have some rather unique traditions and customs (and please note, neither I nor the Catalans are trying to burst anyone’s holiday cheer bubble and/or downplay anyone’s religious interpretation of Christmas …just keep in mind that people around the world celebrate holidays, well..a bit differently).

 

#1 El Caganer (translation: The Pooper) – is a figurine that appeaes in nativity scenes in Catalonia, depicted in the act of defecation. To this day, the origen of the caganer is still a mystery but most ethnographers think it appeared somtime in the 17th century. So, explainations and various meanings of the caganer:
    • The Caganer, by creating faeces, is fertilizing the Earth, it was a “customary figure in nativity scenes in the 19th century, because people believed that this deposit [symbolically] fertilized the ground of the nativity scene.
    • The Caganer represents the equality of all people: regardless of status, race, or gender, everyone defecates. In this way it reinforces the belief that the infant Jesus is God in human form, with all that being human implies.
    • Perceived humour and funny spectical for children.
The Caganer has been fully merchandized over the years and you can now purchase your very own “pooping figurines” of your favorite stars – Obama, Shakira, Tiger Woods, Michael Jackson, Darth Vader, Messi, The Simpsons, Elvis, and even the Pope.
#2 Caga Tio (translation: The Pooping Log/Uncle) – Is a large log that has two front legs and a painted face that appears on the Feast of The Immaculate Conception (December 8th). He is kept like a pet for the next month – fed and kept warm by the children. In our house, the Caga Tio was magically at the back-door and by the next day was magically inside the house by the fireplace. And there he has been for the past three weeks. The girls put all kinds of things in front of the Caga Tio like plates of cookies and mandarins and little by little, the Caga Tio “eats” the food. Then, on Christmas Eve families gather for the Caga Tio to “bear” his gifts. Let me explain…

 

Laia demonstrating proper form
when hitting the Tio
Catalan children are not passive participants in receiving their gifts. Unlike many other children who simply go to sleep with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads and awake to gifts, Catalan children have to work hard for their gifts. On Christmas Eve, they gather around the Caga Tio with sticks and hit him. They hit him over and over and sing wonderful classic holiday songs (that we all know and love) such as “caga tió, caga torró, avellanes i mató, si no cagues bé et daré un cop de bastó. caga tió!”…translated it means…”poop log, poop Spanish Candy, hazelnuts and cottage cheese, if you don’t poop well, I’ll hit you with a stick, poop log!” Once the Caga Tio has been tortured enough he is ready to “relieve” himself. Traditionally he poops small gifts like candies, trinkets, coins and such but apparently over the years he has become more “regular” or “capable” and all kinds of gifts poop out! To my disappointment, while the children sang songs in the other room, moms and dads slid gifts under the blanket (so he does not ACTUALLY poop….darn!).

 

The Caga Tio is a great, warm Catalonian custom and I encourage you all to consider adding him to your Christmas traditions!

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