I’m sure many people are done talking about Christmas but the holidays in Barcelona are coming to a climax tonight with the arrival of the Three Kings (Los Reyes Magos). Based on the three wise men from the nativity story, the three kings bring children gifts on the night of the 5th of January. For the kids it is a much bigger deal than Christmas Day, there is a big welcome ceremony at the harbour right now and a huge parade through town tonight that we plan to go see. Spain is still a religious country so the nativity story has not been forgotten. Most families build their own scenes at home that range from the simplistic to the elaborate. A huge part of the Christmas market was dedicated to selling small figurines and necessary equipment to make this happen.
I’m using this as an excuse to finally getting around to posting about some humorous Spanish Christmas traditions we learned about last year, the caga tiós and caganers. Someone with a bit of Spanish might wonder why two of the most ubiquitous Christmas figures in Cataluña have the word “poop” or “caga” in the name and all I can say is it’s a bit of a scatalogical culture (don’t get me started on swearing in Spanish!).
The caga tió is basically a log that has become somewhat anthropomorphic over the years and now includes a face, sometimes a hat and two little legs to prop it up on. They are sold in many sizes so that it can “grow” over the period of a few weeks when the kids “feed” it. It is often covered with a blanket and on Christmas Eve (la buenanoche) children hit it with a stick while singing something along the lines of “poop log, poop us sweets, or we’ll hit you with a stick”. I heard it playing and if you didn’t understand the words it’s sort of catchy. After each round of the song small gifts “appear” under the blanket, usually snacks or sweets that can be shared that night. We bought our own little guy from the Christmas market. We couldn’t bring ourselves to hit it with a stick so it didn’t give us any sweets, most disappointing.
The caganers are even more humorous as they are essentially small pooping characters that get included in the nativity scene or “belén”. They come in many variations from men in traditional Spanish dress and bishops(!) to cartoon characters and footballers. According to Wikipedia the significance of the caganer can be anything form simple humour to signifying the equality of man (you know, ’cause everyone poops). The most common meaning I’ve been told by locals is that they represent fertility, retuning to the earth what has been taken out etc etc. Needless to say we find their presence rather amusing. I heard photos of the biggest caganer in existence already made their way around the Internet but since it was only a few minutes walk away we went to catch a glimpse of it. Let me say, a two story high figurine taking a poop taking center stage in a shopping center is definitely not something we would see in North America.