Catalans have a deep-rooted fascination with shit – animal and human bodily waste products. And there’s no better time to experience this fascination than during the lead-in to Christmas.
From December 1st through to December 24th the square in front of the Sagrada Familia hosts a Christmas market.
When wandering through the market, take a closer look at some of the stalls selling everything you could ever need for a Nativity scene: shepherds, wise men, donkeys, camels, cribs, tiny flickering fires, Madonnas, little baby Jesuses – and you’ll see caganers – shitters. Every Catalan nativity scene has to have a shitter somewhere. (Even the official pessebre [nativity scene] in the city square has one) In formal scenes it will be a shepherd having a crap, but for many Catalans the scene isn’t complete without a politician, footballer, member of the royal family, or well-loved cartoon character, crouched, knickers around their ankles, planting a curler.
Take another look around at other stalls and you’ll see strange figures, made of logs, with a face and wearing a red barretina (beret). These are caga tiós (shitting logs). These logs are installed in the home and ‘fed’, sharing the family’s food, until Xmas Eve, when the log is beaten with sticks while the family sings, “Shit! … and shit me a good thing, like turron (nougat), or something lovely … ”
And then, the log, having shat what it can, is put on the fire to warm the family through to King’s Day (Reyes) – the Epiphany on January 6th.