By Frisco Rosso
With Christmas (or ‘the holiday season’ to politically correct types) around the corner and shops already decking the aisles with boughs of holly, I can’t help but wonder why South Africa has yet to find its own Christmas identity. Seeing snow-frosted Christmas trees and rosy-cheeked urchins on cards just seems ridiculous when the sun is blazing 30°C outside.
Still, there’s always room for other traditional elements: the food, drink, the ol’ nativity scene – things that seem to fit in with seasonal festivities regardless of which hemisphere you live in. Not that any of this really bothers me as I’m just happy for the parole time or “leave” as employers like to call it.
Everyone seems to have their own way of celebrating everything and rightly so, but the peculiar practice of introducing winter themes to a South African summer pales in comparison to this age-old Spanish custom.
The above scene may look like something out of the Benny Hill Show but the bare-arsed figure is actually a typically placed Caganer – a small figurine that is as integral to Spanish nativity scenes as Big J or the housebroken Three Wise Men.
Legend (very loosely) has it that Caganers first began appearing during the Baroque period after the discovery of a peculiar Iberian votive deposit in Catalonia, Spain. It depicted a supposedly holy warrior curling one out onto his sword – presumably he’d forgotten he’d left it there. As a result, religious scholars, academics and archaeologists made a point of falling out about whether this crapping masterpiece was the first ever example of a Caganer or simply an obscure oddity created by an incontinent sculptor.
In many cultures the visage of someone taking a dump in close proximity to a holy figure is as morally awkward as farting in a packed elevator or laughing at a funeral, but there doesn’t seem to be too much evidence of Caganers causing problems in social circles. In fact they seem to be keenly encouraged and have become a growth industry.
In 2005 the shit hit the fan when Barcelona city officials commissioned a nativity scene minus a Caganer. This glaring omission caused quite a stink as it was interpreted as a rejection of Catalan tradition and values. Officials claimed that recently introduced by-laws that prohibit public relief were being compromised and argued that Caganers were a bad influence. Citizens forcefully disagreed and the Caganer was reinstated the following year.
Everyone from Darth Vader to the Dalai Lama has been immortalised over the years, clearly letting the decree go forth that everybody poops. The odd people at caganer.com have even gone so far as to release a new range of Barack Obamas in honour of his recent re-election – perhaps the only mark of distinction capable of dwarfing his Nobel Peace Prize.
I’ve yet to find a satisfactory symbolic explanation for this Catalan phenomenon other than they seem to demonstrate that even in the most serious, holy or sombre situations, when you’ve got to go you’ve got to go. Whatever the reasoning or interpretation I can now rest easy knowing that dumping on Christmas along with all the other malcontents is going to be futile this year as the Catalans have been doing it harder and better for generations.
Giving a whole new meaning to the term “stocking filler” Caganers are clearly here to stay.
With more tension than your mother’s suspension, I am Frisco Rosso. I’m likely to deliver a few lines worth at any given moment regarding film, music, sport, books and anything morally unsound that strikes a blow between the eyes in the name of entertainment.