The blonde hair and boyish grin are instantly recognisable, the cheeky rear view less so – it’s Boris Johnson in figurine form, caught with his pants down taking a dump.
He’d probably rather die in a ditch, but Britain’s newly-minted PM is tipped to be one of the best-selling Caganers of Christmas 2019. That’s Shitter in English, or Defecator to be more polite, the name given to the irreverent ceramic figures that have been part of every Catalan nativity scene since the 17th century.
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En serio! Among the miniaturised models of the Sagrada Familia & Co in the Catalan stable (usually tucked away in the animal quarters so as not to offend extranjero sensibilities) there’s always a funny little man with his pants down, doing a poo.
Why? Learned theologians have debated this long and loud (on the BBC included): some blame the tradition’s Baroque origins (a period infamous for its earthy realism); some say it’s a fertility symbol (manure fertilises crops); but everyone believes the caganer’s presence at the birth is as vital as the Virgen Maria’s, ensuring good luck and in the coming year. In 2005 half of Barcelona was up in arms when the town hall cut him from the city display on the grounds that defecating in public was illegal.
In times past no self-respecting Spanish household was without a crib scene in the front parlour, but these days there’s less call for handcrafted shepherds and sheep and in 2003 one hard-pressed family of potters in Girona beat the recession and the growing preference for Christmas trees with a radical reinvention of the caganer. They took him out of his traditional Catalan peasant dress and gave him celebrity status.
It began tamely enough with a Santa Shitter, progressed to Spanish political figures and went viral with Barack Obama edition in 2008 (the Americans are biggest foreign contributors to caganer.com’s online shopping cart).
No global public figure’s dignity is safe from the kilns of this mother-and-three-son team – not Donald Trump, nor the Queen of England, nor the cast from Game of Thrones nor even the Pope. Everyone’s bottom is up for grabs.
The unveiling of the Advent Collection is as eagerly awaited as the El Gordo lottery draw. Chosen in large part by the family’s grandchildren who ‘get’ the ‘poo-uerile’ humour, this year Boris is among 40 new famous faces (or should that be faeces?) along with climate activist Greta Thunberg, PP President Pablo Casado and tennis ace Novak Djokovic.
But before you complain to your nearest Disgusted department, it’s not about making them butts of a tacky joke – it’s a Homage from Catalonia, as it were. ‘All the versions pay tribute to whom they represent while wishing them well’, explains the website.
And it’s not the only scatological Catalan Christmas diversion. Throughout December, children are given a toy Yule Log called Caga Tio (Uncle Shit) which they ‘feed’ with scraps until Christmas Eve when they beat the caca out of it until it ‘poops’ real sweets.
They’re a weird lot, the Catalans*. But then, as Manuel the Fawlty Towers waiter forewarned us, a lot of them come from Barcelona…
*Caganers are also a tradition in parts of Valencia, Murcia, Portugal and Naples, Italy