Tuesday, December 21, 1999

Dreaming of a Normal Christmas


Hi Everybody,

Okay, I'm extremely lame, it's been like a month and a half since my last installment. Lotsa stuff happened. Let's get to it.

First off, it's very close to Christmas here, and since I promised a long time back to write about the weird stuff going on here in Spain (and not just the weird stuff going on in my head), I'll let you all in on the Christmas traditions here.

If you've been to Spain, or have friends here, or can spell "Spain" (watch that second vowel, it's tricky) you know that this is (or was) a Catholic country. *My* country was discovered in a particularly fervent attempt at being very Catholic (vease "Reyes Catolicos"). Most people here are named "Maria", even the male president (Jose Maria Aznar). The language is littered with lotsa cutesy catholic-influenced sayings like "En un santiamen" (I'll get to it in the time it takes to say the benediction) and "Donde Jésus perdio el gorro" (Where Jesus lost his hat, kinda like the Texan "Out in East Jesus") and finally the constantly heard "Es la hostia, Tio" ("That's the communion host, uncle", which translates more or less to "What a cluster"). Where was I... oh yeah, Christmas. So, you'd figure that being catholic would make everyone brush off their church suits and go to the Cathedral for the yearly visit. Nope. That's what used to happen, but not anymore.

What happens now, at least if you live in Barcelona (which I do), is that they have a bunch of basically pagan traditions which they kind of Christmas up. The Catalans are proud that they don't do Christmas like the folks in Madrid. Add this to the fact that Catalan humor *is* scatological humor and you get:

1) The Caga-tio. This is a contraction of the two words "Cagar" and "Tio". "Tio" means Uncle. "Cagar" is what you do several hours after a big meal. The Caga-tio is a log with two legs at one end, made up to look like a kind of strange two legged animal. They put a blanket over it, and tell the children that if they feed it and treat it nicely, the Caga-tio will, um, cagar presents for them on Christmas eve. So the kids put a bowl of milk under the blanket every day and wait. Finally the big day comes, and Mom and Dad give the youngsters sticks, and they take turns hitting the Caga-tio with the stick, while singing in Catalan, "Caga tio, tio of Christmas, cagar me some presents or I will hit you harder". Then the kids have to close their eyes and pray for a few minutes, and magically, the Caga-tio fills up with presents. I'm not making this up. They only do this here (thank god).

2) The Cagoner. Maybe you can see where this is going. Cataluña has a tradition of making very artistic "Belenes", or nativity scenes. Most houses mount one well before Christmas, and the children make a daily habit of moving the three kings (Reyes) closer to the manger each day. They don't arrive until January 6th, which is the holiday known as "Reyes" here, and it's when the kids really get their big presents, Christmas being more of a socks and underwear holiday. The tradition of the Cagoner is that there was a Catalan shepard in Israel (again, I'm not making this up), who must have had, um, an especially big meal just before the baby Jesus was born. So every shop that sells nativity scenes also sells little figures of a Catalan shepard squatting down and thinking hard about life with his pants around his ankles. This year they also had "Caga-Monica Lewinskis" and "Caga-Popes". How's that for Catholic?

3) Burning Bragas y Calzoncillos Rojos. This one is more about Noche Vieja (New Years Eve). On New Years Eve, everyone has to go out and paint the town red. No big surprise there. You might even know about Las Uvas... the tradition that everyone swallows twelve grapes at midnight for good luck. This is where it starts to get Spanish: At midnight, if you're fortunate enough to be dating someone, and I mean even if it's the first date, you exchange red underwear with your date. They are to be worn that night, and that night only. The next morning, you are to burn the underwear with your date. I suppose this is better than firing pistols into the air (which they don't do here, mom). But it makes me wonder how many fires get started this way (what do you tell the cops when they come?), and how many kids get born around September 30 as a result. They also have a saying in Catalan: "Que no carda al cap de l'any, no carda tot l'any", which is kind of like "If you don't get lucky on New Years, you won't get lucky all year." Guess I can see why. Gotta love them Spaniards.

There's a lot more to write, but I have to get off to the company Christmas dinner, so until next time... Happy Christmas/Tu B'shevat/Kwanza... I miss you all a lot. -Tim