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Weird Christmas Custom: Spot the Pooping Peasant

Dec 23, 2010 – 7:17 AM
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Holiday traditions such as wrapping gifts and eating fruitcake may suck, but nothing is crappier than a bizarre Christmas custom practiced in Spain.

While a typical Nativity scene in most parts of the world usually includes figurines of baby Jesus, Joseph, Mary and their entourage of Wise Men and farm animals, folks in the Catalonia region of Spain add their own weird twist.

If you look really closely at Christmas Nativities in Catalan cities like Barcelona or Tarragona, chances are you'll find a strange figurine of a man squatting and pooping somewhere in the manger. There's even a little pile of poop right next to the figure to prove it.

That's right. Someone is taking a crap right in the middle of baby Jesus' birthday, but in Spain, it's no big deal.
Pooping Peasant Hiding In Spanish Nativity Scene
Lluis Gene, AFP / Getty Images
Ceramic figurines of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, called "caganers," are seen at the Santa Llucia Fair in Barcelona, Spain, in 2005. Statuettes of well-known people defecating are a strong Christmas tradition in Catalonia, dating back to the 18th century. The figures symbolize fertilization, hope and prosperity for the coming year.

The pooping peasant figure is called "el caganer " -- which translates to "the defecator" -- and has been a stinky staple in Catalan Christmas culture since the 18th century, according to Spaniard Ana Ramiro, press manager for the Tourist Office of Spain in Los Angeles.

Ramiro told AOL News that el caganer is a very popular and common holiday figure all over Catalonia and in parts of Italy, France and Portugal, and is often hidden somewhere obscure, like behind a tree, in public Nativities.

In fact, she said Catalan kids have been known to make a festive game out of spotting the pooping peasant this time of year because it is that likely that he's in there somewhere.

It's like playing "Where's Waldo?" -- only with poop.

But why in the name of you know who is there a man relieving himself in the manger?

Well, Ramiro cleared the air and revealed that the reasons are really quite simple.

"There are many interpretations of what el caganer stands for, but the most popular belief is that he's fertilizing the earth to bring forth a good harvest. It's to bring good luck and abundance in the new year," she explained. "Some people also think that just like a birth is natural, going to the bathroom is too, so he fits right in."

Either way -- No. 1 or No. 2 -- Ramiro said el caganer is here to stay, and is even tolerated by the Catholic Church.

"I remember visiting my grandmother's church as a child and seeing el caganer squatting and pooping in the church Nativity. I've never heard of people being offended by it, since it's such an old tradition," she said.

El caganer has become so widely accepted, figurines are sold all over Catalonia. A version of President Barack Obama as el caganer is even available online.

The Spanish poo theme doesn't end there.

Ramiro said there is another Christmas tradition in Catalonia known as "el caga tio" -- or "the defecating log" -- which involves an unusual variation of the yule log.

She said parents take a hollowed-out log and fill it with candy and gifts on Christmas, sometimes drawing a face on one end. Kids are then urged to hit the log with sticks until their presents come out of the other end, as if the gifts were being pooped out.

The log actually drops a log. Kind of makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

But not all Spanish holiday customs are overtly crappy. Some are just different than what you may be accustomed to.

For instance, Ramiro said Spaniards wrap up the Christmas holiday with "Dia de los Reyes Magos" on Jan. 6, a day to celebrate the three Wise Men.

On the evening of Jan. 5, Ramiro said Spanish children can be found cleaning their shoes and leaving them out on the balcony or living room as they wait for the "Magos" -- not Santa Claus -- to arrive.

"The story is that the Wise Men bring each a child a gift at night and leave it on top of their shoes. Good kids gets presents and bad kids get either coal or a lump of camel poop," she explained.

Again with the poop. Do you see a pattern here?

But perhaps the most enjoyable holiday tradition, in Ramiro's opinion, is the "12 uvas," or "12 grapes" custom performed on New Year's Eve by nearly every Spaniard in the country -- both young and old.
Grapes
Joe Raedle, Getty Images
In Spain, it's considered good luck to eat 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight. The custom is said to bring prosperity in the New Year.

"On New Year's Eve thousands of people gather at Puerta Del Sol, the main square in Madrid, for the New Year's countdown. There's a huge clock there, and the gathering is broadcast on every television station. As the clock chimes right before midnight, everyone eats 12 grapes -- one with each sound of the bell. Each grape is supposed to bring prosperity and good luck in the New Year, so everyone participates," explained Ramiro. "It's amazing because it's the one moment when the whole country is doing the exact same thing at the exact same time."

Ramiro said it's pretty funny to watch family and friends try to keep up with the chimes. Most of the time, she said, her relatives wind up with a mouthful of grapes because they can't swallow them fast enough.

"My sister peels them beforehand so they're easier to eat," she said with a laugh. "It doesn't matter which kind of grapes they are, red or green, as long as they are grapes."

To add even more chances for prosperity in the coming year, Ramiro said some Spaniards put their gold rings in their champagne glass while toasting, which is rumored to bring money and fortune.

Just don't swallow the ring or it may come out the opposite end -- el caganer style.

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