The “Mad Dog” Craig Scott gets to the bottom of Spain’s crudest Christmas custom
WHAT’S your earliest childhood memory? Personally, I can recall everything from about six years onwards. Anything before this, however, is decidedly cloudy. But somewhere in the deepest, darkest realms of my subconscious, there lies a little, Christmas manger.
It’s right up there with being chased through my grandma’s never-ending garden by a ferocious Arctic Wolf (which looking back, was probably an Alsation. Howling, man-eaters weren’t exactly ubiquitous to 1980s Salford).
Like all Irish, Catholic households, some sort of Nativity scene was essential for the festive period. Luckily, our crib was a Christmas cracker. It contained real hay and had meticulously sculptured statuettes of a cherub-like Jesus, a donkey, a cow, Three Wise Men, and a virgin (which was quite a novelty on a street full of sex pests and single mums!)
We didn’t have a Joseph though – he was gobbled up by our Golden Retriever one year, while we murdered hymns at midnight mass. After emergency auditions, we replaced him with a Luke Skywalker figure, on account of his rag-like clothes, unkempt hair, and dusty sandals. It really was a wholesome little slice of Bethlehem – but with astroturf and a Jedi Knight moonlighting as a Jewish carpenter!
But if you think this was sacrilegious, have you seen what crazy Catalonians stick in their holy cribs? On November 15, I read something in the Olive Press that made me double-take. Under the heading ‘Kate and Will Caught with their Pants Down’, an image showed a plastic Kate Middleton crapping in her wedding dress. The story explained that our future King and Queen had been included in this year’s list of Spanish ‘caganers’ (defecators).
I’d first encountered El Caganer two Christmases earlier, at my brother-in-law’s rustic Girona farmhouse. For half-an-hour, the kitchen was aswarm with activity as long-lost relatives became reacquainted. As they kissed, hugged and exchanged toiletry sets, I meandered through candlelit corridors with low-beamed ceilings and medieval sword sets. As I entered a barn-like lounge, I felt like an extra in a Dario Argento movie. Even stranger than the feral cat and mounted boar head – I saw a miniture man, emptying his bowels – right in the middle of lil’ Jesus’ crib.
I remember wondering what kind of sick puppies would find this festive. Then, Philip (my brother-in-law) leapt out of nowhere and slapped me on the shoulder with a hairy hand. “So, you’ve spotted El Caganer then?” he bellowed, like the Wild Man of Borneo. “That’s our crapping Zapatero,” he informed me, “he’s the Spanish Prime Minister.” As I looked for an emergency escape route, Philip explained that the squatting man dates back to the 18th century, and that all Catalans owned one.
Two years on, and I’d completely forgotten about all this nonsense. But, this image of the Duchess of Cambridge – knickers round her ankles – had brought it all back with bump (or should that be ‘dump’?)
Eager to get to the bottom of all this, I contacted Miguel, a Catalonian friend, to ask why they were picking on our Princess. Miguel explained that there are many interpretations of what El Caganer represents, but assured me it was a compliment, not an insult. “Kate is fertilising the soil,” he explained, “to ensure a good harvest and bring prosperity to people in 2012.”
Down at my local Chino shop, however, the shopkeeper took a much dimmer view. He argued that the “Americanisation” of Spain was damaging traditional customs. “This celebrity obsessed culture is no good. Ten years ago, there was no Santa Claus….. now he’s hanging from every balcony,” he barked. “Foreign films and TV are ruining things. Once, El Caganer was a peasant, simple and well-meaning. Nowadays, people prefer footballers, actors, politicians and pop stars…. even your horse-faced Royals. If this continues, Spain’s identity will be lost forever.”
Amazingly, from what I have read, the Catholic Church sees nothing wrong with this festive filth. To me, this proves two things, firstly that Pope Benedict isn’t the bad-ass we thought he was, and secondly, news of the ‘Sh***ng Pope’ hasn’t yet reached the Vatican.
Although I consider myself to be fairly liberal-minded, I think the image of his holiness doing a jobby – is verging on offensive. If they released a squatting Allah, all hell would break loose!
However, at the end of the day, I suppose we’re the outsiders and we shouldn’t judge what we don’t understand (“When in Rome…,” and all that). Plus, it could be worth putting a few of these fouling figurines away for a rainy day. Personally, I’d love to see the look on peoples’ faces if one of these cropped up on a futuristic Bargain Hunt or Antiques Roadshow. And that’s why I’ve just bought my first El Caganger.
Let’s just hope God forgives me and my devout grandma doesn’t choke on her chipolatas during our Christmas Day Skype.