Any Christmas would be incomplete without a nativity scene. The Catalan _pessebre_ features something (or someone) entirely unique: the _caganer_. Read on to find out who the cheeky guy is and what he’s doing with his pants down.

The bare-bottomed caganer figurine.
The bare-bottomed figurine that brings good luck, image via Teresa Grau Ros on Flickr

What is a caganer?

Or better yet – who is a caganer? He’s just a regular guy. First appearing at the end of the 18th, century, he dons the garb of a Catalan peasant from that time: black pants, loose white shirt and a red sash and barretina – a traditional Catalan hat.

The kicker – he’s crouching, with his pants around his ankles and defecating. The word caganer literally translates to “pooper” in Catalan. And this fearless fellow has become an essential figure of the nativity scene and the Catalan Christmas tradition.

The pessebre (Catalan for nativity scene) is usually a large model of the city of Bethlehem where Jesus was born. You’ll typically find the caganer inconspicuously crouching further away from the main scene, behind a bush or a building. It would be grotesque to have him pooping front and centre!

Nativity scene figurines.
The caganer typically hides behind the Catalan nativity scene

What’s with the poop?

There are many theories about where the tradition first came from. The most popular stems from the idea that feces were used to fertilize the soil and yield healthy crops. There was a legend that if farmers didn’t include a caganer in their nativity scene, they would have bad luck that year on the farm. For this reason, the caganer is thought to bring abundance and good fortune to the approaching new year.

Others hypothesize that including a defecating figure among the saintly figures of Jesus and Mary brings everyone onto one level. It’s a reminder that everyone is human. Yet another theory is that the bare-bottomed figure simply represents the mischievous side in everyone.

Caganers pooping.
Caganers with their piles of dung

The contemporary caganer

El Caganer, the Catalan company that makes the figurines by hand from clay, began introducing famous pop icons and politicians into their collection when they saw that demand was dropping.

Since then, the caganer’s popularity has surged in recent years with many new “modern” versions appearing at the Christmas stalls and souvenir shops. From Donald Trumps and Popes to Madonnas and Messis, these bare-bottomed figures have become popular Christmas gifts, with some die-hard collectors constantly seeking out the newest representations.

Have you seen the caganers around the Christmas markets of Barcelona? Have you gifted one or own one yourself?

The most popular caganers of 2019 - Gretta Thunburg, Borris Johnson, La Casa de Papel.
The most popular caganers of 2019
November 30th, 2020

Posted in Culture

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