A couple of days ago my friend Maria emailed me from Ventura asking if I could send a caganer as a Christmas gift for her sister. I’d forgotten all about caganers until Maria reminded me. The first time I ever saw one was in the window of a souvenir shop in Figueres, Catalunya, where I'd gone to visit the fantastically kitsch Salvador Dali Museum. I almost fell over laughing. This is a caganer:
Why are caganers?
‘Caganer’ literally means ‘crapper or shitter’. Caganers have been incorporated into Catalan nativity scenes since at least the18th century.
Wikipedia gives a number of reasons why caganers might exist. By creating caca, they’re fertilising the soil, and placing them in a nativity scene bought good luck and joy for the year to come. Caganers could also represent the disruptive ‘other’ safely included in the idyllic. Joan Barril suggests that, “Without the caganer…there would be no real country but just the false landscape of a model”.
21st century caganer
When I was looking around for caganers to send to Maria, I came across Caganer.com, which has the best selection I’ve ever seen. See what I mean?
(It's Bono, silly.)
Sergi and Mark Alós, the brothers who run the company, kindly helped me shed some further light on the caganer phenomenon.
Why do you think people like caganers so much?
In Catalunya, they’re loved because, traditionally, they bring luck for the coming year. Elsewhere they're seen as unusual and amusing. Caganers representing famous people are successful because, in the end, they’re just like you and me.
When did you get the idea to start the business?
We bought the business from a man who was retiring and started producing figurines for nativity scenes in 1992. From there on, we incorporated one or two caganer novelties, like the demon and the angel, into our collection of Christmas figurines but these were still traditional figures. In 2002, when there was an election in Catalunya, Marc Alós, our sculptor/carver, created political figures. The politicians they represented loved them.
How many caganers do you make every year?
Between 25,000 and 30,000 and we sold 14,000 last year.
What's the most popular caganer you sell?
The typical Catalan caganer is by far our bestseller. Obama is our most popular politician. Messi is our star football player, Bruce Springsteen our biggest singer and Mic (a Catalan comic character for children) the ‘most admired’ figurine in the comic section.
Do you sell caganers outside Spain?
Yes, in the USA, our best selling destination, France, the UK, Australia, Russia, Germany, the Caribbean, South America and Asia.
What's the strangest caganer you've ever made?
An American branch of a Catalan company ordered a caganer representing the Catalan president of the company. It was strange receiving an order from the US to produce a caganer for the president of that company who was in Catalunya.
Do you do caganers to order?
Yes. All we need is a photo of someone. But these orders have to be made many months in advance, more or less a year.
How much time should I allow to receive my caganers before Christmas a) inside Spain and b) outside?
Inside Spain, two days, and, for the rest of the world, up to five.
So, followers of Disorder at the Border, if you could choose, who would be your personalised caganer?
Hola, Señor Poop Log!
Another splendid Catalan tradition, which could have its own cartoon series, is Tió de Nadal or, as Maria and I call him, Señor Poop Log. From December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Señor Poop Log is fed nuts, dried fruit and water and covered with a blanket. On Christmas Eve, children hit him until he cacas sweeties, singing:
Shit nougats, hazelnuts and mató cheese,
If you don't shit well, I'll hit you with a stick,
A pooñata I suppose. Once Señor Poop Log has finished his business, he produces a stinky herring and is then burned for warmth.
Homage to Dali, pride of Scatalunya
I’m not a great lover of Salvador Dali. I woke up too many times under his floppy clock poster in strange bedrooms with girls whose name I didn’t know when I was a student.
The only thing I like about Dali is his capacity for gleeful perversion. He was known to be coprophagic, for instance. Having spent time in Catalunya, I never quite understood how Dali came to be The Dali. Catalans are pretty conservative people. But when I discovered caganers and Poop Logs, it all made sense.
Can you imagine if Dali had made a giant caganer or enormous, jewel-encrusted poop log? Great would be the rejoicing.
And my message for you this Friday? As the Catalans say, ‘‘Eat well and shit hard’ this Christmas.