If you weren’t raised in a Western country you might think that going out into the woods and cutting down the biggest tree you could find that would fit and putting it in your living room and then covering it with all kinds of sparkly things was a bit strange, or maybe even the little toy looking manger scene might make you ask “What’s going on here,” but even at least one Western country celebrates Christmas each year with a manger scene that might baffle practically anybody, no matter where you are from.
Which brings us to the Catalonia region of northeastern Spain where too the Nativity scene is celebrated, but the folks in Catalonia do it a little bit differently. Instead of just the manger, the whole town of Bethlehem is included, and apparently it was the misfortune of at least one of those towns folk to have been doing their business when Jesus was born. The call him the “Caganer” which literally means “shitter” and he is tucked away somewhere in every one of those town scenes. The game is to find him which can’t be too difficult since he is usually depicted wearing a red cap and accompanied by a pile of doodoo. And lest you may think that this is some kind of a joke being played on the good people of Catalonia, in 2005 the city council of Catalonia’s largest city, Barcelona, tried to remove the Caganer from the nativity scene. In response, the citizens of Barcelona came up with a massive “Save the Caganer” campaign forcing the city government to give in and let a man be depicted shitting next to Jesus. But what can you expect from a city that for many years was home to none other than the world famous surrealist artist Salvador Dali?
Tio de Nadal
But that’s not all that’s strange about how Christmas is celebrated in Spain. There’s the Tio de Nadal, the log that poops out presents.
Sounds interesting, right? Even a little unbelievable. But that’s what it is. You beat on the log until it relieves itself, and then you pick up the results and enjoy the rest of your Christmas day.
By tradition the log is placed in the fireplace on Christmas and then told to poop out various treats like dried fruit and nuts. But things have improved over time and now the log can poop out even more elaborate gifts. And it’s not always placed in a fireplace, especially when one is not available. The kids just keep beating it until all of the precious crap is ejected. Or they can just sing it a song in which the log is warned to relieve itself or then it will be beaten. Here is an example of a song sung to the Tio de Nadal log by kids on Christmas morn:
Poop Log, poop turron
Hazelnuts and cottage cheese.
If you don’t poop well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
Here are a few more strange celebrations –
In Holland they celebrate with Zwarte Piet, their version of Santa Claus’s sidekick, a kind of Robin to Sinterklaas’ Batman. They arrive by boat and the good kids get presents but Zwarte Piet takes the bad kids away to Spain where they must pound a pooping log for the rest of the day. The fact that Piet is Zwarte, and appears looking very much like Uncle Remis, is causing some Dutch children to call him racist.
Not to mention Iceland’s 13 somewhat demonic looking Yule Lads who bring good children a gift each of the 13 days leading up to Christmas and let their Yuletide Cat claw the bad kids (defined by those not receiving new clothes for the season).
And finally in Austria, Santa comes around with his company of demons, like Krampus who throws bad little girls and boys straight into hell. And there’s Pershta the “belly-slitter” who isn’t much nicer. “Fröhliche Weihnachten – Merry Christmas.”