The Caganer – Catalonia’s Naughty Nativity Figure

As seen in the our ‘Christmas Around the World’ series, the world is full of varying Christmas traditions. While traditions are often carried from place to place as generations of immigrants leave their home countries, others are confined to small parts of the world and escape the global gaze at this time of year. 

One of the world’s more unique Christmas traditions involves The Caganer, a curious figure in celebrations in Catalonia, in north-east Spain. While the Caganer, a figurine who appears in Nativity scenes, is found in other parts of Iberia and other areas with Catalonian culture (such as Andorra and southern France), he certainly has a very unique appeal.    

The Caganer’s name roughly translates to “The Crapper”, which reflects his position in the manger scene: he sits in the corner, defecating. Traditionally, he  wears a traditional Catalonian red cap and white peasant shirt, though some are made in the guise of famous people.

The exact origin of the Caganer is unknown, according to the society ‘Amics del Caganer’ (Friends of the Caganer), he entered the nativity scene by the late 17th or early 18th century. For some people, his defecation is symbolic of fertility. Others say that he is meant to humble famous people by showing them with their pants down, or that he demonstrates that no one can be prepared for when Jesus will appear.

Of course, the Caganer is not without controversy; while his presence is tolerated by the church in Catalonia and the tradition is enjoyed by the locals, opinion is divided as to whether it is an appropriate part of nativity scenes. But while the tradition might feel unsavoury for some, and might not have caught on abroad, it’s certainly one that sets Catalonian Christmas apart.

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