Why Do People In Spain Add Someone Openly Pooping To Their Nativity Scenes?

Christmas traditions around the world vary greatly but the Catalonian caganer statue is by far the oddest addition you can make to your nativity scene. What is a caganer? It's a Catalan pooping figurine that is added to Catalonian nativity scenes every holiday season. It's not a scary figurine and, like yule logs, elves, and mistletoe, has a long history and a huge cultural significance, particularly in Barcelona and other parts of Spain. When you look at it though, it certainly doesn't evoke the same gravitas as other European holiday occasions but the story behind it is one so bizarre that it is definitely still worth knowing.

  • The Word "Caganer" Literally Means "Pooper" Or "Crapper"
    Photo: Caganercom / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    The Word "Caganer" Literally Means "Pooper" Or "Crapper"

    The name of the figurine - the caganer - doesn't hide what the statue is doing because he's defecating. The figure has his pants down and is squatting with a pile of brown poop underneath him. All in all it's fairly self-explanatory. 

  • The Caganer Statue Has Been Around Since The 17th or 18th Century

    According to scholars, the caganer statue was introduced to nativity scenes in Catalonia in either the late 17th or early 18th century. Over the past two centuries, the presence of the caganer statue has become more and more common in nativity scenes in Catalonia.

  • The Caganer Figure Wears A Specific Set Of Clothes

    Traditionally, the caganer statues wears a Catalan red hat and a white peasant shirt to indicate that he is poor. He may also be smoking a pipe or a cigarette. At times, however, people dress up the caganer to look like a celebrity, a politician, or some other public figure. In the past, the caganer has been designed to look like popes, queens, and icons of all kinds.

  • He's Often Off In The Corner Of The Nativity Scene By Himself

    When the caganer statue is placed in a nativity scene, he typically takes a back seat to the main players. He may be in a corner or far in the background or even hidden from immediate view.

  • "Find The Caganer" Is A Game For Catalan Children

    Because the caganer isn't in the foreground of the nativity scene, it's a game to find him. Children in Catalonia play a game where they look for the caganer each morning... that must be a nice way to start the day.

  • Catalans May Add The Caganer To Their Nativity Scenes As A Symbol Of Fertility

    There are a lot of theories about the symbolism of the caganer. It's possible that Catalans place him in nativity scenes for fertility and good luck during the coming year. Poop is technically fertilizer so it's not a stretch to see the fertility connection. It's also the only offering a poor shepherd could make to the newly born Jesus. Over time, not placing a caganer was considered bad luck for the coming agricultural season.

    It's also possible that the statue is a reminder that God will appear when he is ready - when the urge strikes him - much like the need to defecate.