A caganer (Catalan pronunciation: [ka-gah-neh]) is a figurine depicted in the act of defecation appearing in nativity scenes in Catalonia and neighbouring areas with Catalan culture such as Andorra, Valencia, former Northern Catalonia (now Southern France) and the Balearic Islands. It is most popular and widespread in these areas, but can also be found in other areas of Spain (Murcia), Portugal and southern Italy (Naples).
The name “El Caganer” literally means “the crapper” or “the shitter”. Traditionally, the figurine is depicted as a peasant, wearing the traditional Catalan red cap (the “barretina”) and with his trousers down, showing a bare backside, and defecating. The caganer is a particular and highly popular feature of modern Catalan nativity scenes. It is believed to have entered the nativity scene by the late 17th-early 18th century, during the Baroque period.
The caganer is represented in a little porcelain “nativity” figure of a man, squatting down and laying one out, somewhere in the nativity scene. Caganer is a favourite of the kids, who love examining the Christmas nativity scene, trying to find where he is “pooping”. Caganer is normally hidden somewhere among the more traditional nativity scene characters. The idea of the caganer is not meant to be disrespectful to any religious groups, “cagar” (to defecate) is a sign of good-luck, as the poo fertilises the land and provides a good harvest for the year to come. In modern times, it is simply a bit of fun and something special for the kids to enjoy.
Possible reasons for placing a figure representing a person in the act of excreting waste in a scene which is widely considered holy include:
- Perceived humour.
- A fun spectacle, especially for children.
- The caganer represents the equality of all people: regardless of status, race, or gender, everyone defecates.
- The caganer, by creating feces, is fertilizing the Earth. According to the ethnographer, Joan Amades, it was a “customary figure in pessebres [i.e. nativity scenes] in the 19th century, because people believed that this deposit [symbolically] fertilized the ground of the pessebre (nativity), which became fertile and ensured the pessebre for the following year, and with it, the health of body and peace of mind required to make the pessebre, with the joy and happiness brought by Christmas near the hearth. Placing this figurine in the pessebre brought good luck and joy and not doing so brought adversity.”
- Increased naturalism of an otherwise archetypal (thus idealised) story, so that it is more believable, more real and can be taken more seriously.
- The idea that God will manifest himself when he is ready, without regard for whether we human beings are ready or not.
- The caganer reinforces the belief that the infant Jesus is God in human form, with all that being human implies.
- The character introduces a healthy amount of religious doubt to test one’s faith.
- A humorous allusion to the Catalan proverb (in translation), “Dung is no saint, but where it falls it works miracles.
And to have a laugh now, see how our British friends perceive this curious Catalan tradition on the famous QI (Quite Interesting) comedy panel game television quiz shown in the BBC: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6ayDi1R788
Video: © Catalan News Agency