Caganer figurines
Albert Gea  /  Reuters
Nativity "caganer" figurines of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and opposition party leader Mariano Rajoy are displayed at a Christmas market in Barcelona. While the traditional caganer is a red-capped peasant, more modern renditions have gained in popularity.
By Brian Tracey Business Editor
msnbc.com
COMMENTARY

The Virgin Mary. The three kings. Baby Jesus in a manger. These are the figures one expects to find in a traditional Christmas nativity scene. But in parts of Spain, you'll also find a smartly dressed peasant squatting behind a rock with his rear-end exposed.

Throughout Spain's northeastern Catalonia region, statuettes of "El Caganer," or "the great defecator" in the Catalan dialect, can be found in Christmas scenes, and increasingly on the mantelpieces of collectors, where for centuries symbols of defecation have played an important role in the season's festivities.

During the holidays, pastry shops around Catalonia sell sweets shaped like feces, and on Christmas Eve Catalan children beat a hollow log, called the tio, packed with holiday gifts, singing a song that urges it to poop presents out the other end.

These traditions, dating back as far as the 17th century, come from Catalonia's origins as an agrarian society where defecation was associated with fertility and health.

Note to Santa: Please do not use this story as inspiration for a new type of gift to leave under our Christmas trees.

Not-so-bad ideas

  • Here's some more holiday-business weirdness: Police in central China have scotched a liquor company's plans for a mass Christmas Eve "nude run," which the company said was a public interest event to discourage the use of "excessive packaging" in the industry.

Jixiang Ruyi Tobacco and Alcohol Co. offered 284 people $1,280 in cash and prizes to participate in a naked dash through Zhengzhou, capital of Henan province, the People's Daily reported on its Web site this week.

The company's advertisement called for "auspicious" men and women under age 30 with "healthy bodies" and "regular features" to apply.

The report quoted a company manager saying the goal of the streaking event was to raise consumer awareness and declare war on the excessive packaging of "baijiu," a grain-based alcoholic beverage popular in China, often given as an elaborately packaged gift in the lead-up to Chinese New Year.

Over 1,700 people had applied in four days, China Central Television reported on its Web site, the overwhelming majority of them men.

"We have already invited experts from the beauty industry to conduct physical checks on the applicants. Their mental condition must also be sound. According to the tests, there are only 30 or so that qualify," CCTV quoted a company official as saying.

But despite the firm's high standards, Zhengzhou police rejected the company's application for a permit to hold the run.

"Public commercial events ... must meet moral standards," CCTV quoted a police official as saying. "Such mass streakings do not."

  • In Japan, celebrating the holidays appears to be not so tacky, but perhaps a little excessive. A department store in the western city of Osaka has found a way to have your cake and wear it too by offering an $850,000 cake festooned with 100 diamonds.

"The patissier who made it said he felt that chocolate and diamonds are what a woman most wants to receive," said a spokeswoman for the Takashimaya department store.

OK, that must mean what men really want for Christmas is a juicy sirloin steak topped with a Ferrari.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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