Meet “El Caganer”, the figurine that rocks every Christmas in Barcelona
A CATALAN POOPING MAN IN THE NATIVITY SCENE
Christmas has arrived to Barcelona. The families have visited the Christmas markets to get a tree, some new ornaments and additional figurines for their Nativity scene. Back to the house, everyone is setting up the decorations and the kids are busy with the Nativity.
If you’ve ever set up a Nativity, you know that the main scene is the stable, all complete with Mary, Joseph, Jesus in the manger, a mule and a bull. But from there there’s room for creativity: a set of shepherds eating with an angel announcing Jesus is born, the 3 wise men following the path to the stable, shepherds arriving with their offerings…
And a little guy somewhat hidden, squatting and doing its business. What? Yes! Meet El Caganer. Today we'll be discussing the origins of this Christmas tradition in Spain, what it means, how it has evolved and if you should consider it a profanity or not.
Everything you want to know about the Spanish Caganer statue
Origins of El Caganer in Spain and its meaning
Although the origin of the Caganer Christmas tradition is lost in the mists of time, the firsts records about it date from the 1700’s, but it could have already started appearing in Catalan nativities already by the end of the 1600’s. It was the time of the Baroque, and Baroque art was prone to grotesque. So a statue of a pooper fitted in the mood.
It is believed that the excrements of the Catalan caganer fertilize the land, becoming a symbol of prosperity and wealth, but also of good luck and happiness. But it could also be interpreted as a way to bring the mighty down.
Nowadays locals see it as a children game: it’s them who hide it in the nativity and then invite the adults to try and find it. Of course, it has to be hidden to do its business, you don’t poop in the middle of the way.
Is the Caganer ornament used in other parts of Spain?
While El Caganer is a Catalan tradition, you can also find it in other regions that were once part of the Crown of Catalonia and Aragon. It is used in Andorra, South of France, in Valencia and in the Balearic Islands (in Menorca they call it “En Bernat qui caga” – Bernard Crapper.
Some households of other parts of Spain seem to also have adopted this tradition, mainly in Murcia, where it’s called “cagón“. And it’s also reported to be used in some areas of Portugal (known as “cagão“) and in Naples, Italy (“cacone” or “pastore che caca“.
How does the Catalan pooping man look like?
You can also find “pixaner” (the pissing man), standing, holding its hands together over his pubis, from where an arched transparent line get outs towards the ground. But I wouldn’t say it’s equivalent to a Caganer statue: people will buy it as an addition to their Nativity Scene, not as an alternative to El Caganer.
By the way, besides a naked butt, neither the Caganer nor the Pixaner figurines show other manly parts.
El Caganer figurine as a pop icon
But in 1992 Anna Maria Pla, a potter and traditional nativity figurines maker, founded a shop specialized in Caganer figurines and started expanding her collection to include pooping versions of all kind of celebrities. Local and international politicians, rock stars, famous sportsmen, movie characters…
Their creations soon became a hit, with people buying them as presents or tourist souvenirs, for collections, as decoration or just for sheer fun. But not really for nativity scenes: their size is too big for that.
Where can you buy a caganer figurine?
The Barcelona Christmas Markets are the best place to buy your Catalonia caganer figurine. But they are only there the first three weeks of Christmas, and after December 25 they are gone.
The rest of the time you might be able to find them in some souvenir stores of the Gothic Quarter. And you can also try online. I wasn’t able to find any on Amazon, but you can try the online Caganer shop in Anna Maria’s website https://www.caganer.com/.
Controversies and profanity
There was one time they complained, though. That was when Anna Maria’s family-owned company created a caganer version of La Moreneta, the Black Madonna of Montserrat, patron saint of Catalonia. And while the company insisted they picked her as a symbol of Catalonia, the local Catholic authorities weren’t happy to see the dark bared bottom of their beloved Mother of God…
That wasn’t the only time the Caganer Company got in trouble for their boldness. Celebrities don’t usually complain to see themselves pictured in such a delicate position. It is even said in Barcelona that if a famous person doesn’t have a caganer version of themselves… they aren’t really that famous!
But the year they dared to design an Osama Bin Laden pooping man, many people complain saying that such evil people didn’t deserve publicity. Not even being shown shitting…
And what about the city council and other official institutions? The Barcelona City Council sets ups a “designer” Nativity every year in Plaça Sant Jaume. Every time it’s designed by a different artist and the result is usually quite far from a traditional Nativity Scene. Some of them have included a caganer, and some other have omitted it.
When in 2005 the caganer was omitted, a whole “save-the-caganer” campaign was organized. The City Council replied that having approved a local ordinance against defecation and urination in the streets,
More caganer trivia...
- There’s several designs of Caganer playmobil toy.
- There’s even an “Association of Friends of the Caganer“.
- In 2010 the Maremagnum shopping mall set a world record with the largest Caganer Statue in the World.
- In Joan Miró’s “The Farm” painting there’s a small figure of a baby pooping, that according to the artist was inspired in the Nativity caganer of his childhood.
- The Caganer Catalan tradition isn’t the only pooping Christmas tradition in Catalonia: instead of Santa Claus, children get their presents from a tree trunk that “poops” them after being hit by sticks while the kids sing a song. It’s called “Tió de Nadal”.
- The US pop culture has its own “Christmas Poo”: Mr Hankey, a South Park character. It appears in Episode #9 of the first season of this animated TV show.
Will you be adding a Caganer to your Nativity Scene this year?
Marta is the founder of ForeverBarcelona. She is a passionate tour guide that loves Barcelona and loves writing too. She is the main author of our Blog, and is committed to sharing her knowledge about Barcelona and her best tips with our readers.
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