El Caganer

The Stinky Twist of a
Catalan Nativity Scene

A quirky centuries-old tradition is an integral part of every nativity scene worth its hay in parts of Spain. Somewhere behind Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus himself, there’s the none-too-holy figure of a paesano, relieving himself with not a worry in this world.
The Caganer, a bare-botton icon that originated in Catalonia, is now a familiar sight this time of the year in Portugal and Italy too. And unlike other oh so pious Christmas symbols around the world, it never ceases to draw a little smile from tourists.
It’s no wonder. Most celebrities – not just Spaniards – have their own, and love it too. President Obama has it. The Pope? Sure. Queen of England? Definitely. And, we suspect, a certain vomit-yellow haired American lout may soon be getting one too.
Artists, politicians and footballers, they all have their own little squatting clay statues, sold in souvenir shops. And those who don’t, well, they may be wondering just why not, or whether there’s something terribly wrong with their agents, right Justin?
You better believe it. Even though, the Caganer may be a tad too anarchic for the sanitized tastes of contemporary culture. The social and political subtext that the figure came to evoke may be completely lost for mainstream artists and typical crowds of our times.
The Caganer also conveys fertility and good fortune, as insurance for plentiful produce crops for those who keep one at home. That could be the context connecting such a rich, secular tradition to the Christmas lore and its rural tale of a dispossessed boy born in a manger.
Its addition to a Middle-East religious representation is also a throwback to Spain’s Muslim past, but in the form of some kind of social, almost satirical commentary. And as such, the contrast (more)
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* St. Nick of Time

is not in the nativity scene but in the prudish reaction to its presence there.
As one blushed American tourist euphemistically described it as ‘a person doing the #2 outdoors,’ right before cursing like a sailor for not being able to pronounce the word properly, the Caganer deflates the Western tendency to pomp and circumspection around Christmas.
For Spanish children, Christmas day has an added attraction, besides the excitement of opening up gifts: finding the Caganer. But in public displays, it’s usually out in the open, wearing his traditional floppy red Catalan cap, and watching it all, uninvited, like the one above.
But wouldn’t it be disrespectful to place someone defecating near the holy crib? ‘Not at all,’ said another tourist, arguing that for all sense and purpose, the Caganer does give a shit about it all. For, she adds, ‘it was the only thing the little shepherd boy had to give the child. And that’s a great gift.’

(*) Edited from a post originally published on Dec. 24, 2010.

One thought on “El Caganer

  1. Sir!

    In suggesting Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II relieves herself in any fashion goes a step too far, and would amount to nothing less than treason, had you the good fortune to be an Englishman.

    I believe filling the pot is the duty of the Gentleman of the Bedchamber pot. Emptying it falls upon the reigning Monarch’s Necessary Woman.

    Retract! I tell you! Retract!

    Liked by 2 people

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