And I thought I knew everything about Christmas

by Sarah Luna

When I left for college four years ago, one of my aunts gave me a photo album with the handwritten inscription: “May you never forget just how weird your family is.”  Coming home each Christmas, I see many changes in my family, but the weirdness remains comfortingly constant.

Christmas Eve: picture the idyllic scene of family gathered in a cheery living room. Gifts are piled high in a corner. Stomachs are stuffed with food. A German shepherd chases a chihuahua in a striped sweater. And Grandpa sits in his big chair, places his spectacles carefully on the bridge of his nose, and says: “Children, when we’re all ready, I have a Christmas story to share.”

We all settle comfortably in anticipation of a warm, fuzzy story about God’s love made manifest in a tiny child. Or at least that’s what I was expecting. I really should know better by now. Grandpa begins.

“Children, I’m going to tell you a story about the Christmas Pooper. In Catalonia, where our ancestors came from, in addition to Mary, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus, the Catalans place a tiny figure pooping in the Nativity called the caganer.”

A traditional Catalan caganer from the back.

Image via Wikipedia

At this point, we were all waiting for the punchline. I glanced furtively at the other members of my family, unsure of how to react. I saw the same expression of horrified humor. In Catalan, the word caga literally means “to shit”. Surely, this could not be real. We listened with incredulity and ill-supressed laughter as Grandpa shared the tradition behind the little figure that would be hidden in the Nativity scene for the little children to find. We theorized about why anyone would put a pooper there.

Later that night, I raided Wikipedia. From the Caganer page:

Possible reasons for placing a figure representing a person in the act of excreting waste in a scene which is widely considered holy include:

  • The Caganer represents the equality of all people: regardless of status, race, or gender, everyone defecates.
  • Increased naturalism of an otherwise archetypal (thus idealised) story, so that it is more believable, more real and can be taken more seriously.
  • The idea that God will manifest himself when he is ready, without regard for whether we human beings are ready or not.
  • The Caganer reinforces the belief that the infant Jesus is God in human form, with all that being human implies.

Well, that’s something to think about.

Needless to say, my family is a bit strange. I’m pretty sure a pooper will make its way into the decor next year. Yep, that’s my family, and I love them.