Teresa Parker blogs about restaurants, recipes, and the reasons why she's in love with Spain's food and culture.
Though Christmas trees are encroaching on local traditions, the old-fashioned symbol of the Christmas season in Spain is the nativity scene. And in Catalonia, the most important figurine therein, once you've got your basics—Mary, Joseph, shepherds, sheep—is the caganer. The English language card that came with a beautiful dark chocolate version I bought at the Faure pastry shop, famous for such things in Girona, calls him "the crapper."
In Catalonia, Robert Hughes explains in his rambling history, Barcelona, "the image of shit has a festive quality unknown in the rest of Europe." But there are some rules of etiquette: don't place him center stage; tuck him out back, discreetly away from the manger. But the caganer makes a point: No matter what may be going on in the way of cosmic miracles, man's gotta do what man's gotta do. And that's downright green in Hughes's interpretation: "Nothing can distract him from the archetypal task of giving back to the soil the nourishment that it supplied to him." New models honoring public figures and the infamous come out every year. Artists and designers continually reinvent the image. Collectors and museums have caganers going back to the sixteenth century. But there's no definitive history yet. Hughes suggests something for those of you pondering dissertation topics: "The origins of the caganer are veiled in antiquity and await the attentions of scholarship."