The so-called Caganer 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, despite you can also found it in other areas of Spain (where they are called cagones), Portugal (cagões), some areas of Southern France (Père la Colique), and southern Italy, especially in Naples (cagone or pastore che caga) where nativity culture is a must.
The name “El Caganer” means, not by chance, “the pooper”. Traditionally, the figurine is depicted as a Catalan peasant man, a farmer or shepherd, wearing a typical hat called a Barretina, a red stocking hat with a black band, and with his trousers down, showing a bare backside, and pooping.
The exact origin of the Caganer is unknown, but the tradition has existed since at least the 18th century, and it is believed to have entered the nativity scene by the late 17th or early 18th century, during the Baroque period. An Iberian votive deposit was found near Tornabous in the Urgell depicting a holy Iberian warrior defecating on his falcata. This led to a brief altercation as to whether the find can be regarded as a proto-caganer (which would place the origin of this tradition far earlier than previously thought) or just a representation of a pre-combat ritual. There is also sculpture of a person defecating hidden inside the cathedral of Ciudad Rodrigo, Province of Salamanca, though this is not part of a nativity scene.
In any case, in Catalonia, as well as in the rest of Spain and in most of Italy and Southern France, traditional Christmas decorations often consist of a large model of the city of Bethlehem, similar to the Nativity scenes of the English-speaking world but encompassing the entire city rather than just the typical manger scene. Commonly materials such as moss will be used to represent grass, and cork used to represent mountains or cliffs. Accompanying Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the shepherds and company, the caganer is often tucked away in a corner of the scene, typically nowhere near the manger. A tradition in Catalonia is to have children find the hidden figure.
Possible reasons for placing a figure representing a person in the act of pooping in a scene which is widely considered holy include that the Caganer is fertilizing the Earth. According to the ethnographer Joan Amades, it was a “customary figure in nativity scenes in the 19th century, because people believed that this deposit fertilized the ground of the nativity scenes, which became fertile and ensured the nativity scene for the following year, and with it, the health of body and peace of mind required to make the nativity scene, with the joy and happiness brought by Christmas near the hearth. Placing this figurine in the nativity scene brought good luck and joy and not doing so brought adversity.”
The Catalans have modified this tradition a good deal since the 1940s: in addition to the traditional caganer design, you can easily find other characters assuming the same position, such as nuns, devils, Santa Claus, celebrities, athletes, historical figures, politicians, Spanish royalty, British royalty, and other famous people past and present. Just days after his election as US president in 2008, a “pooper” of Barack Obama was made available.
By representing them with their pants down, the caganer serves also as a levelling device to bring the mighty down.
Images from web- Google Research