Catalan statehood is in vogue, which leads many to ask: What makes Catalans so unique? This blog has previously covered their vermut for breakfast, super-hot girls in bad haircuts, screwy sounds, etc. But more than anything, it's Catalans' glorification of excrement that proves this to be is a one-of-a-kind people who deserve their own passports — or at least their own secured borders.
Catalan Defecatory Traditions: A Tipsy Pilgrim Ethno-Anthology
Caganer — The Christmas Shitter
At Christmas time, nativity scenes spring up in homes, shop windows, town halls, and public plazas throughout Catalonia. In these, alongside the baby Jesus, wise men, etc, there is nearly always a caganer, which translates as a "shitter". The "classic" caganer is a peasant in a red cap with his pants pulled down, squatting proudly over a little brown spiral of doo. Sometimes, for propriety, the figure is set off a ways from the baby Jesus, but you can always find him somewhere. At this point the caganer has been popping up in the region's nativity scenes for hundreds of years, so the Catalan Catholic church quite literally has to put up with his shit. Shops supplying Christmas decorations in Catalonia hawk caganers in countless variations.
The tradition has become a bit emblematic of Christmastime in Catalonia, and now famous politicians, sports stars and other public figures can also be bought in minuture, shitting form. There is also, reportedly, a €150K Catalan export business in variations of these shitting figurines. And they're not always so small; the 19-foot-tall version seen at right was erected in a shopping mall in 2010.
Think this is just a frivolous joke to Catalans? Witness the outcry that resulted in 2005, when the city government failed to include a shitting peasant in the official city nativity scene. The caganer was quickly restored in 2006.
Pantalons Cagats — Shitted Pants
Sure, fashion is transitory and subjective. But I'm at a loss as to how even Catalans find aesthetic joy in brightly colored cotton pants whose crotch hangs and waggles at knee level. And their name for this sartorial atrocity just makes the effect worse; pantalons cagats means "shitted pants". But for Catalans shittiness is apparently a positive state, enough so that they'll even wear such a droopy, de-sexualizing, ugly garment.
Caga Tió — The Shitting Christmas Log
Other cultures hang stockings, leave their shoes outside, mount a piñata... there are so many world holidays that offer elaborate excuses to give children candy. The Catalans, for their part, coax their children to hit logs with sticks until they "shit" out treats.
This log is named Caga Tío, or Shitting Log, and he is "fed" a bit each evening in the weeks leading up to Christmas, when the family gathers around him with sticks. Then they sing, ordering him to shit. I know you probably don't believe me, so just watch the video below.
Shit out nougat,
hazelnuts and cheese.
If you don't shit it all out
I'll hit you with this stick!
When the song is finished, the family reaches under the blanket to see what goodies the Caga Tío has produced for them to eat.
(By the way, the version of the song in the above video is slightly different. Also, check out how excited the kid gets at the beginning. "Ja ha cagat!" he shouts — "he's already shat!")
For good luck, Catalans wish you "a lot of shit" ("molta merda!" = break a leg!). You can be a worrywart who "shits doubts" all the time ("cagadubtes") or you can "shit things up" ("te l'has cagat" = you fucked up). If, on the other hand, you do things very quickly you're "shitting milk" ("cagant llets"), while if you're an "underpants-shitter" ("cagacalces") you're obviously a coward.
Possibly most vexing is the Catalan version of "they're like two peas in a pod". In Catalonia, two very good friends "són com cul i merda", i.e., "they're like ass and shit". It's hardly an expression that begs to be overthought, but you do have to wonder why Catalans conceive of these "friends" as staying together any longer than they might have to.
Naughty boys and girls don't get coal in Catalonia. The three wise men leave, you guessed it, poop. Candy poop, usually in a toy toilet. It's made of chocolate and marzipan, and presumably indoctrinating children early with faux-coprophagia innocolates them against the natural revulsion they might otherwise feel growing up Catalan with the rest of these traditions. The fake poop, preset in its toy toilet, is available in candy shops at holiday time.
Well, we hope that's enough to turn even a few folks from the Partido Popular into ardent defenders of self-determination for the Catalan people. If not, there's lots more. So visca Catalunya, i independència jà!
We've been alerted to two more shitty Catalan expressions:
- Color merda d'oca — "the color of goose shit", i.e., ocher
- Pets de llop — "wolf farts", explosive, fecally malodorous mushrooms that apparently litter the Catalan countryside. In my years in Catalonia, I've never entered the woods, and now, I never will.