After the stunning results from the December 21 elections, stunning for their lack of stunningness, everyone went home and paused for five days of uninhibited eating and drinking in a festivity known as Christmas.
The yuletide in Catalonia, just like everywhere in the Old Continent, is full of ancient traditions, and two are worthy of mention, because if the nationalists were to ever have a solid claim on their region being different from the world and, thus, entitled to sovereignty, by God, these are the ones. Hold on to your seats and read on:
One entails a unique member of the nativity scene, or crèche, which is a representation of the birth of Christ. They are found all over Spain, in churches, shops and schools, and no home is complete without one…unless of course you are Muslim or Jewish. Components of the basic kit include the Holy Family, as you would expect, three Wisemen, a couple of angels, a handful of shepherds, and an ox and donkey. But the display is rarely that simple. It can be extremely elaborate, depicting various scenes from the Christmas story, and often has sand, moss, LED lights, watermills, and even running water gurgling about on occasion. The expanse, extension and dimension of your crèche can often be a reflection of your values, economic status or ostentatious personality. The number of figures can run into the hundreds, as can the cost to collect and assemble them. They often represent every aspect of life back then…and in some cases, life today.
One such character, peculiar to Catalonia, is known as the caganer, a curious bloke whose mission in this world is to depict a typical Catalan farmer squatting down and defecating. I shit you not, excuse the pun. His finished product is always included and has a striking resemblance to the emoji turd, but without the eyes and mouth. Just what would possess anyone to insert such a profane figurine in such a holy scenario without fear of getting reduced to a pile of ashes? And who could it have been? Like anything in life, there had to have been a first. I mean, you have to wonder about the look on the faces of those present when they heard for the first time, “Why don’t we add a statue of a guy taking a dump?”
The Catalans say it’s all a pagan tradition having to do with the renewal life, and I’m not one to refute that claim. There does exist a vulgar phrase in Spanish in which a bowel movement is known as “planting a pine cone”, so maybe there is a relationship. One thing is for sure, though, the Catalans have taken the custom on with uncommon affection and pointing out where the crapping dude is in the crêche is generally at the top of the list when you visit any home. Every year at the Christmas markets, where the statuettes can be purchased, there are scores of variations, and instead of being a bumpkin from rural Catalonia, the heads represent famous personalities, oftentimes politicians. In December 2017, to no one’s surprise, Puigdemont and Rajoy caganers were especially abundant.
Jumbo size versions of a caganers also exist. In 2010, in the Maremagnum mall, a 20 ft. tall caganer was erected. And since no caganer is complete without a big pile of poop beneath the butt, I can assure you nothing was spared on this occasion.
As astounded as I was, at first I chalked this tradition up to one of those oddball rituals that make the world so amusing and off the wall. But it was when I learned about another annual custom, also performed at Christmas, that I came to suspect that the Catalans were, to say the least, scatologically-curious. Here’s another gem: whereas in Spain you have a choice of gift-bearing visitors, Santa Claus (Papá Noel), the Baby Jesus (El Niño Jesús), or the most popular threesome of them all, the The Three Kings (los Reyes Magos), somewhere in the northeast of Spain, things are decidedly different. Don’t panic, this has nothing to do with St. Nick pooping under the tree or anything like that. The Catalan Kris Kringle is a log with bright eyes and a pleasant smile and two sticks attached to it to prop it up as if they were legs. So far, so good. A cute, little mascot with a plausible relationship to the season. After all, we do have a yule log, so the symbol seems season-appropriate and, on paper, kid-friendly. A blanket is draped over the trunk and we certainly get the feeling that we are tucking ourselves into a snug winter’s evening.
Patience. It just so happens that in the days leading up to Christmas, family and friends begin to slip gifts under the blanket (I understand this might be a spoiler for those under ten, though my guess that represents 0% of my limited readership), and practice is continued until it is plump full of presents. Then on Christmas Eve, or whenever the family chooses to engage in the ceremony, children dance around the log, tapping it with a stick (more earnest efforts might go as far as striking it) and sing a song after which they produce a gift for whomever the tag says its for. Exactly what are the kids doing? Well, and here’s the troubling part, they are bashing the fictitious character until he excretes a present. I shit you not, again. Should anyone have any doubts about my story or its aim, consider the name: cagatío, which roughly means “the crapper”.
So, there you have it. Uniqueness. A raison d’etre. A justification. Certainly something you can take to the United Nations and aver that no one on this planet does that. We can start raising the estelada.
Believe it or not, as odd as they are, I think they are terrific traditions. I really do. They add color to tradition and are a tribute to the whacky diversity of humanity. The human condition. But there were others who had made a point of it of poking fun at Catalan independence, and in a way that caught just about everyone off guard.
On December 26, a Catalan organization known as “Barcelona is not Catalonia”, invented to counter to the widely used “Catalonia is not Spain”, formed a petition on the website change.org demanding independence for a “historical” region in Catalonia which they called Tabarnia. Never heard of it? Not surprised. Nor had anyone else in Spain up until that date. There was, and is, little that is historical about this territory which, for all intents and purposes, is made-up. Invented. Fabricated. But as absurd as it may sound, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Tabarnia is supposed to be a region which represents a section of Catalonia that voted for the most part in favor of the pro-unity parties. They claim that the rural parts of Catalonia are unfairly overweighted when it comes to parliamentary representation because all it takes is about 20,000 votes in secessionist-heavy cities like Lleida to win a seat, while you need 46,000 in Barcelona. The result is that separatist Catalonia is over represented. By a lot.
But the arguments don’t stop there. The platform uses many of the points their counterparts rely on to defend their dreams of separating from the rest of the country. Why? In part to prove the absurdity of the independence movement and, two, to suggest that if they aren’t careful, the same will happen to them.
The movement has been taken as a joke, a clever bit of political satire, meant to provoke the ire of the secessionists with their own arguments. Separatists have taken the bait in some cases, while others just dismissed it as a sideshow that would grab headlines for a few days and then disappear. That is a possibility, but not necessarily a definite. Why? Because it’s there. It’s been said. And therefore it exists. And it will continue to be a humorous jest until it stops being one. Should Catalonia ever succeed in separating, these residents who probably run into the millions may just have a larger say in the matter. Especially since they represent in many cases Catalonia’s economic backbone.
And after that? Then, within Tabarnia, there will be smaller communities and subzones which will want to join the new nation. Russian dolls will crop up all over the place. And there will be no end to it.
And the wheels, they go round and round…