Instead of storytime this week, I thought I would introduce you gentle readers to the complicated but entirely accurate concept of El Caganer. (If you are easily offended regarding religion, it might be best if you skipped this entry!)
Translated as “The Defecator” or “The Shitter,” El Caganer is a creation of the people of Catalonia, Spain, who place a small figure of a peasant who is “doing his business” within their Christmas nativity scenes. That’s right – there is a culture of folks who put a pooping peasant in the scene of the utmost, highest holiness that Western culture reveres.
It is really a thing:
In fact, they built a gigantic version of him in a shopping mall in Spain. ROAD TRIP!
And they’ve made versions of him as famous figures, such as presidents and pop stars, because of course they’d commercialize anything to do with Christmas.
Before we begin in earnest, I have to get heavy here for a minute regarding my belief system so no one thinks I’m just a blasphemous blowhard: I consider myself to be a spiritual skeptic, or a tentative believer. I identify as Christian because I have experienced connections with and interventions by forces greater than myself, and I choose to assign agency for those actions to God/Jesus, the entities I was raised to believe in. However, as a scholar and an INTJ, I have to question the legitimacy of the stories of the Bible and judge them based on my understanding of their historical and sociological merits. That doesn’t mean I’m a nonbeliever, but it does mean that I see plenty of room to interpret divinity and the sacred within the confines of what the human mind can comprehend, not just within the confines of what one book says about them.
Now that I’ve cleared that up, let me tell you why I love the concept of El Caganer so much.
- It is a little pooping dude. (My inner 12-year-old boy can’t help but crack up at the figure alone.)
- It is a little pooping dude IN A NATIVITY SCENE. (My perverse inner self finds that shocking and inappropriate and therefore HILARIOUS.)
- Most importantly, it is the perfect symbol of the profane existing within the sacred. (My inner philosopher and scholar is gesticulating madly in agreement with that combination.)
How many times have we been in pure parental bliss, snuggled up with our babies, when they just absolutely let loose and filled a diaper? There was no malice to it, and no forethought or intent to ruin the moment – they simply had to shit, because shit happens. How many times have we been walking through the woods, or in the park, enjoying the beauty and bounty of nature, only to step squarely in a pile of scat and track it along with us? Again, shit happens.
Shit happens, literally and figuratively, because it is a basic animal need – and like it or not, in this sense, humans are very much animals, driven by bodily requirements that take precedence over spiritual intervention. God may move in mysterious ways, but the bowels move, too, and often more regularly.
Carry the “shit happens” metaphor through figuratively now. How many times have things been going very well in our lives, when suddenly something unexpected and undesired throws us off our groove? A failure at something we expected victory in? A missed opportunity? An injury or illness? The loss of a job, or the loss of a loved one? Most faiths would have us believe that all these things happen for a mysterious reason ordained from above, but the Catalonians adopt a view that I can fully get behind: maybe the reason for these occurrences is that sometimes shit just happens. People can work very hard to be wholesome and holy, but because they are human or mortal or otherwise not divine, they always have to shit, and sometimes they fail and get hurt and get sick and die. It’s a matter of light and shade, yin and yang – two halves that make the whole. The sacred and the profane exist in all moments, even if we like to pretend we only see the sacred.
I know some folks will find the idea of El Caganer highly offensive to their religious views, and I respect that. For myself, I believe that El Caganer is the perfect symbol to remind myself that sometimes, despite my best intentions, I have to be human because I AM HUMAN, and that all situations are going to carry some base element of imperfection. I teach this lesson to my son so that he knows that when he does his absolute best to shoot for the moon and still comes up short, the failure of perfection is not necessarily due to any shortcoming on his part, but rather an occurrence of shit happening, as it always will. We can be really, really, really good, but we will never be perfect, and life will never be perfect – but there is still a lot of divinity and beauty and goodness and light to see even amongst all the shit. That’s not the worst lesson to learn.
And also, little pooping guy. <snort>
If you think that’s weird, wait till you hear about Caga Tio in my next installment!