As Christmas Eve 2010 descends upon us, and sugar plum fairies stretch their quads, preparing to dance in our heads once again, The Puru wants to bring you in on a rather crappy Catalan holiday tradition. But first, a plug for our upcoming event this Monday night!
This holiday season, skip Jack Black's reinterpretation of Gulliver's Travels and join The POOP Project for a taste of the REAL Jonathan Swift. Monday, Dec. 27 from 7-8pm, Shawn Shafner (me!) will be at Swift Hibernian Lounge drinking homemade gin and reading from the scatological poo-etry of the 18th century's greatest satirist. Hilarious, insightful, and all in rhyming verse, Swift has a gift for looking beneath the rosy facade, and reminding us that "though we'd like to thank our shit don't stank..." well, you know the rest. For more information, please write The Puru, or see our Facebook Event page.
And now, for some straight poop on Christmas, take a moment to think about who's present in your average nativity scene. Let's see...we've got the baby Jesus, mother Mary, Joseph, the Three Wise Men, some camels, sheep, and OH YEAH! That peasant with his pants down, pooping in the corner.
Meet El Caganer. Literally, "The Shitter," this figurine of a red-hatted farmer relieving himself has been seen in folk imagery in various parts of the world since the 16th century, and has been most famously hiding in Catalan nativity scenes since the early 18th century. Mmm hmmm. And why now? It seems no one knows for certain, but his presence might have represented hopes for a bountiful harvest, symbolized regenerative powers of nature and God, or helped to connect a larger-than-life story to something real and "earthy." For kids, finding the little stinker--placed inconspicuously for modesty's sake--is one of the holidays greatest joys. (Even children with poor eyesight can find this record-making caganer in Barcelona; his stool alone stands taller than a 3rd grader.)
Nowadays, the caganer has loosened the shackles of tradition and not only appears in female form, but as almost anyone else you can think of. Just a quick image search reveals the plastic pooping picture of everyone from Pope Benedict XVI to Barack Obama, Spiderman to Santa, with a healthy dose of Einstein, Woody Allen and Darth Vader thrown in the mix. Admired as a kitschy collectible and art object, they have even spawned their own fan club: The Association of Friends of the Caganer. Daniel L. Lisuk, an artist and a member of the association, helps us contextualize the pooping shepherd in modern times:
"I find that the caganer fits in with many issues of contemporary art: Why are the cycles of nature so profound in our lives? What is the relationship of man to nature and man to God? How can humorous imagery be used with profound subject matter? How do we show the stabilizing role of strong tradition in a rapidly changing society? ... Life is filled with deep meaning, but is also filled with warm humor. The ability of man to examine himself and his place in the universe and to occasionally laugh very loudly at himself makes this a wonderful world." (You can read the full essay here.)
Dayenu, nu? But the Catalan keep it coming. Not only have they enamored themselves with a nativity-crashing crapper, there's also the traditional Tio de Nadal ("Christmas Log"), or what's more commonly called the Caga Tio ("Pooping Log"). Originally this was a hollowed out log that was fed sweets, nuts, or dried fruit in the days leading up to Christmas, and was often covered with a blanket to keep it warm. Come Christmas Day, however, the family would singe the wood in the fire, and then beat it with sticks while demanding that the log poop its treats out for them. Today, the Caga Tio often has four legs, a painted face, and the traditional hat worn by the caganer, in addition to taking on the Santa-like responsibility of pooping out large gifts. Now thanks to YouTube, we can all share this tradition with someone else's family halfway across the world!
Now aren't you glad nobody hits you with a stick and rhythmically demands that you drop a deuce? Unless that's your thing, in which case, good luck with that. However you choose to honor the holidays, we at The POOP Project wish you all the best for a joyous season and prosperous New Year. Peaceful pooping, and looking forward to joining you in 2011.
Shawn "The Puru" Shafner
P.S. If you haven't yet, be sure to check out what Professor Toilet said about our World Toilet Day event!