in Countdown to Christmas 2016

With eleven days to go, I’m introducing the first foreign-language installment early, with a quirky number celebrating the Catalan Caganer.

On Monday, I posted a photograph on Instagram of a pair of caganers ordered from caganer.com, which raised a few eyebrows (and prompted a few questions!):

És l'últim Nadal abans de la nostra boda 😉 gràcies @caganers ☺ #Caganer

A post shared by Alan Collins Rosell (@alancollinspdb) on

Figurines of a husband and wife, on their wedding day, with their pants down and answering nature’s call may not be everyone’s idea of a festive decoration, but for the Catalans it is a very popular part of the pessebre (nativity scene). Not necessarily newly-weds, but celebrities and footballers are also very popular. This year, for instance, the above-linked company’s Donald Trump caganer sold out at their stall in the Barcelona market, although I can’t think why…

If you think I may be making this up, then let Stephen Fry quash any doubts you might have, as the caganer (literally “the crapper” in its polite translation) has featured on that great fountain of knowledge, QI:

For many, the Nativity scene is sacrosanct, and the idea of anyone featured defecating in the background may be considered blasphemous to some unaware of the tradition. But there are many reasons why this tradition has become so popular in Catalunya. According to Catalan ethnologist Joan Amades:

[The caganer] was a customary figure in nativity scenes in the 19th century, because people believed that this deposit fertilised the ground of the nativity scenes, which became fertile and ensured the nativity scene for the following year, and with it, the health of body and peace of mind required to make the nativity scene, with the joy and happiness brought by Christmas near the hearth. Placing this figurine in the nativity scene brought good luck and joy and not doing so brought adversity.

With this in mind, today’s video is the song “El Caganer”, which was performed by Albert Pla, Quimi Portet, Gerard Quintana, Estopa, Joan Miquel Oliver and Manel for Catalan TV station TV3 and Catalunya Ràdio’s 2009 Christmas celebration. The lyrics roughly translate* as follows:

In a nativity scene there has to be
a baby Jesus and a Saint Joseph
the Virgin Mary too,
a cow and a mule
and a badly-hung angel.

But above all there has to be,
there has to be a caganer.
But above all there has to be,
there has to be a caganer.

There has to be bark and moss
and a snowy village
and a river of silver paper,
shepherds and shepherdesses
around a reddish fire.

But above all there has to be,
there has to be a caganer.
But above all there has to be,
there has to be a caganer.

In a nativity scene there has to be
three hens and a blacksmith,
a flock of loose goats
and a grandmother
and a demon in hell.

But above all there has to be,
there has to be a caganer.
But above all there has to be,
there has to be a caganer.

Grab the cardboard
cut out an immense sky
and cut stars from it.
Those who do not have lights
can put stickers there.

But above all there has to be,
there has to be a caganer.
But above all there has to be,
there has to be a caganer.

There also have to be three kings
with three pages, three camels,
who come from the East,
loaded carrying presents.
We are going well!

But above all there has to be,
there has to be a caganer.
But above all there has to be,
there has to be a caganer.

In the nativity scene there has to be,
there has to be a stool
for Saint Joseph to sit on.
And if there is no stool,
the poor man will be standing up.

Never again forget
in a nativity scene there has to be
in a nativity scene there has to be
there has to be a caganer.

Never again forget
in a nativity scene there has to be
in a nativity scene there has to be
there has to be a caganer.

Next year I will be celebrating Christmas with my (by then) Catalan wife, and I am thoroughly enjoying learning not just the Catalan language, but also the history and culture of the region. I hope you’ll enjoy the little nuggets spread through this year’s Countdown to Christmas, too!

* Roughly translated by me, so apologies for any errors!

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