The Poop in the Nativity Scene is Meant to Be There
In Catalonia—one of Spain’s eight autonomous communities and the region Barcelona is capital to—during Christmastime, there is poop in the Nativity scene and it’s not from the baby. Traditionally, uninhibited in a lesser inhabited corner of the barn, El Caganer (which translates to the more vulgar way of saying “the defecator”) is depicted as a farmer wearing a red Catalonian cap and a white peasant shirt. The Caganer can also be seen taking many different forms as contemporary and historical icons.
Recognize anyone? On the center shelf of the second photo, Gandhi squats beside Einstein and Gaudí. Captain America, Shakespeare, Smurfette, a surgeon and a bride are placed around the display in no particular order waiting for someone to make up a joke about them.
The informational card by the company Caganer.com that came with one I bought says of its origin, “It is believed that, with their feces, these farmers fertilized the soil for the following year. This figure symbolizes luck and joy, and it is said that if you don’t include it in the nativity scene it can bring misfortune. In fact, for many celebrities, it has become an honor to have their own ‘caganer’ figure.” The ornament is clearly not only popular with Catalonians, as the description on the card is translated into 15 languages, including Catalan, Spanish, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Basque, Galician, Russian, Portuguese, Croatian, Chinese, Dutch and Korean.
While it is typically considered a compliment to have a Caganer made in your likeness, the Real Madrid soccer player figures are unanimously considered as an insult, since it is a Catalonian tradition and Barcelona soccer fans are some of the most dedicated in the world.
Theories for the meaning of the Caganer abound. A 2015 Smithsonian article, Catalonian Nativity Scenes Feature a Man Pooping in the Manger Scene’s Corner by Danny Lewis, features some highly entertaining interpretations. For instance, some people deduce the poop to be a present that just so happened to be the only thing the farmer had to give.
Cultures from around the world have some radically different holiday traditions from one another, and the world is made more colorful for it. According to the Vancouver Christmas Market, Ukrainian people often decorate their Christmas trees with artificial spider webs. In Guatemala, the week before Christmas involves deep-cleaning the house, while people in Norway hide their brooms on December 24.
For over 200 years, the Caganer has been tradition, but it is not Catalonia’s only poop-related Christmas icon. The photo to the right above shows a smiling Tió de Nadal, a log of wood with a red cap on, who gives presents to children that “feed” it between December 8 and Christmas. Marta Bausells just wrote about Tió de Nadal on December 20 for the New York Times.
These figures do not mean to offend. In fact, the Caganer is tolerated by the Catholic church of Catalonia, possibly because it seems to signify the base commonality between all people… everyone poops, regardless of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin!
This holiday, I am giving Caganers, a gift that keeps on giving, to a few of my friends and family in hopes that they are as amused by the funny tradition as I am. Pikachu’s poo is a plop of yellow, and R2D2 relieves itself of a silver bolt. What’s not to like?
In Girona, the colorful town shown above, I found the Caganers in the photo to the right, a reminder to us all that whether you’re a plumber, an athlete or a superhero, life has smelly parts, but good can come of it, even if only a smile.