Sat in the airport, bored waiting fo my delayed flight, I chanced upon an article about Caganers. For those of you that don’t know, a Caganer is a tradition of Catalonian origin that sees an extra ornament in the Christmas nativity scene. This person is often seen in the corner of the scene, possibly under a tree or bush, squatting with their trousers around their ankles, having a poo. It has become a tradition fo Catalonian children to try to find the caganer (translated as “the shitter”) in the scene.
There is some dispute as to why the caganer came to be. Some people say that he is fertilising the earth, others say that he demonstrates that he is a human being, regardless of race or background. Some say that he makes the story more believable and others are of the opinion that he wanted to give the poo as a gift to the baby Jesus, as he had nothing else to give, unlike the three kings. What we do know is that we have seen caganers in existence since the 18th century, and possibly earlier. These days the caganer doesn’t just take the form of a peasant, but they come in all shapes and sizes and even in very famous forms. Footballers, politicians, presidents, actors and musicians can often find themselves immortalised as a caganer.
This brilliant tradition got me wondering what other countries have unexpected Christmas traditions that I’d never heard of, and I found these gems;
Caga Tio (“pooing log”) is another Spanish tradition where a hollow log is “fed” every night from December the 8th until Christmas day. On Christmas day, the log is beaten with sticks whilst being demanded to poo. While the log is being beaten, songs are often sung such as “caga tió, caga torró, avellanes i mató, si no cagues bé et daré un cop de bastó. caga tió!” which roughly translated is “poo log, poo Candy, hazelnuts and cottage cheese, if you don’t poop well, I’ll hit you with a stick, poop log!” and he will poo sweets or dried fruits, and when caga tio is exhausted he will poo out a herring.
In Austria, they have Krampus night on the 6th of December. Krampus is Father Christmas’ evil twin who punishes naughty children. Men dress up as Krampus (who looks like a terrifying devil) and run around the town hitting people with sticks.
In the town of Gavle, Sweden, what once started out as an act of vandalism, has now turned into a fun tradition. Over forty years ago, the town put up a giant straw goat as a Christmas decoration, and someone set it alight. The next year a new straw goat was put up, and agin it was burned down. It has now turned into a game, where people have to try to sneak past the guardians and burn down the goat by Christmas day. In over forty years the goat has only survived ten times!
In Mexico, people spend the run up to Christmas growing radishes as big as they can and then on the 23rd of December, they carve Nativity scenes out of them, and in Venezuela everyone rollerskates to mass on Christmas Eve.
In Slovakia, a spoonful of the traditional Christmas dish called Loksa is flung onto the ceiling. The more Loksa that sticks on the ceiling, the more likely the family will have a lucky year.
My favourite tradition is the thirteen Icelandic Yule Lads. In the thirteen nights leading up to Christmas each mischievous Yule Lad has a night where he goes and wreaks his own particular type of havoc on the people of Iceland. On the 13th, Sheep-Worrier arrives, followed by Gully Gawk (who hides in gullies until he can sneak into a cowshed and steal milk) , Stubby (who steals pans and eats the crust left on them) , Spoon-Licker, Pot-Scraper, Bowl-Licker, Door-Slammer, Yoghurt-Gobbler, Sausage-Swiper, Window Peeper, Door-Sniffer, Meat-Hook (who uses a hook to steal mat) and on Christmas Eve, Candle-Beggar.
Lastly, the strange folk of England have the peculiar tradition of hiding a coin in their Christmas pudding, dousing it in brandy and then setting fire to it!