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A Caganer (Catalan pronunciation:  [kəɣəˈne] ) 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, and Northern Catalonia (in southern France). 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).

Figurine Small item resembling something, usually a person

A figurine or statuette is a small statue that represents a human, deity or animal, or in practice a pair or small group of them. Figurines have been made in many media, with clay, metal, wood, glass, and today plastic or resin the most significant. Ceramic figurines not made of porcelain are called terracottas in historical contexts.

Defecation Expulsion of feces from the digestive tract via the anus

Defecation is the final act of digestion, by which organisms eliminate solid, semisolid, or liquid waste material from the digestive tract via the anus.

Nativity scene representation of the birth of Christ

In the Christian tradition, a nativity scene (also known as a manger scene, crib, crèche is the special exhibition, particularly during the Christmas season, of art objects representing the birth of Jesus. While the term "nativity scene" may be used of any representation of the very common subject of the Nativity of Jesus in art, it has a more specialized sense referring to seasonal displays, either using model figures in a setting or reenactments called "living nativity scenes" in which real humans and animals participate. Nativity scenes exhibit figures representing the infant Jesus, his mother, Mary, and her husband, Joseph.


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.


A barretina is a traditional hat that was frequently worn by men in parts of the Christian cultures of the Mediterranean sea such as Catalonia, the Valencian Community, the Balearic Islands, Provence, Corsica, Sicily, Sardinia, part of Naples, part of the Balkans and parts of Portugal.


The exact origin of the Caganer is unknown, but the tradition has existed since at least the 18th century. [1] According to the society Amics del Caganer (Friends of the Caganer), it is believed to have entered the nativity scene by the late 17th or early 18th century, during the Baroque period. [2] [3] 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 between the Institut d'Estudis Catalans and the Departament d'Arqueologia in the Conselleria de Cultura of the Generalitat de Catalunya 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.[ citation needed ]

Iberians historical ethnical group

The Iberians were a set of people that Greek and Roman sources identified with that name in the eastern and southern coasts of the Iberian peninsula, at least from the 6th century BC. The Roman sources also use the term Hispani to refer to the Iberians.

The falcata is a type of sword typical of pre-Roman Iberia. The falcata was used to great effect for warfare in the ancient Iberian peninsula, and is firmly associated to the southern Iberian tribes, among other ancient peoples of Hispania. It was highly prized by the ancient general Hannibal, who equipped Carthaginian troops with it during the Second Punic War.

The Government of Catalonia or the Generalitat de Catalunya is the institution under which the Spanish autonomous community of Catalonia is politically organised. It consists of the Parliament of Catalonia, the President of the Generalitat de Catalunya, and the Executive Council of Catalonia.


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. This pessebre is often a reproduction of a pastoral scene—a traditional Catalan masia (farmhouse) as the central setting with the child in a manger, and outlying scenes including a washerwoman by a river, a woman spinning, shepherds herding their sheep or walking towards the manger with gifts, the Three Wise Men approaching on camel back, a scene with the angel and shepherds, the star pointing the way, etc. Commonly materials such as moss will be used to represent grass, with cork used to represent mountains or cliffs. Another variant is to make the setting oriental, with the Wise Men arriving by camel and the figures dressed accordingly.

Catalonia Autonomous area of northeastern Spain

Catalonia is one of the 17 Spanish autonomous communities in the northeastern corner of Spain. Catalonia and the Catalan people are defined as a nation in the preamble of the 2006 Statute of Autonomy, although it was rejected and modified by the Constitutional Court of Spain, which declared this definition without legal standing. Catalonia consists of four provinces: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona. The capital and largest city is Barcelona, the second-most populated municipality in Spain and the core of the sixth most populous urban area in the European Union. It comprises most of the territory of the former Principality of Catalonia. It is bordered by France (Occitanie) and Andorra to the north, the Mediterranean Sea to the east, and the Spanish autonomous communities of Aragon to the west and Valencia to the south. The official languages are Catalan, Spanish, and the Aranese dialect of Occitan.

Spain Kingdom in Southwest Europe

Spain, officially the Kingdom of Spain, is a European country located in Southwestern Europe with some pockets of Spanish territory across the Strait of Gibraltar and the Atlantic Ocean. Its continental European territory is situated on the Iberian Peninsula. Its territory also includes two archipelagoes: the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, and the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. The African enclaves of Ceuta, Melilla, and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera make Spain the only European country to have a physical border with an African country (Morocco). Several small islands in the Alboran Sea are also part of Spanish territory. The country's mainland is bordered to the south and east by the Mediterranean Sea except for a small land boundary with Gibraltar; to the north and northeast by France, Andorra, and the Bay of Biscay; and to the west and northwest by Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean.

Italy European country

Italy, officially the Italian Republic, is a European country consisting of a peninsula delimited by the Alps and surrounded by several islands. Italy is located in Southern Europe, and it is sometimes considered as part of Western Europe. The country covers a total area of 301,340 km2 (116,350 sq mi) and shares land borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, and the enclaved microstates of Vatican City and San Marino. Italy has a territorial exclave in Switzerland (Campione) and a maritime exclave in the Tunisian Sea (Lampedusa). With around 60 million inhabitants, Italy is the fourth-most populous member state of the European Union.

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 or early 18th century, during the Baroque period. [4] Eminent folklorist Joan Amades called it an essential piece and the most popular figure of the nativity scene. It can also be found in other parts of southwestern Europe, including Murcia, the region just south of the Valencia in Spain (where they are called cagones), Naples (cacone or pastore che caca) and Portugal (cagões). [5] There is a sculpture of a person defecating hidden inside the cathedral of Ciudad Rodrigo, Province of Salamanca, though this is not part of a nativity scene. [6] Accompanying Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the shepherds and company, the caganer is often tucked away in a corner of the model, typically nowhere near the manger scene. A tradition in Catalonia is to have children find the hidden figure.

Joan Amades Catalan ethnologist and folklorist

Joan Amades i Gelats, was an eminent Catalan ethnologist and folklorist. An autodidact, he worked at the historical archive of the city of Barcelona and at the Museum of Industry and Popular Arts of the same city. From 1956 onwards, he collaborated with UNESCO. He was also an important promoter of Esperanto and founded the Federació Esperantista Catalana. Perhaps he most important book in his large bibliography is Costumari Català, the main work for the study of Catalan popular culture.

Europe Continent in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Eastern Hemisphere

Europe is a continent located entirely in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Eastern Hemisphere. It is bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Asia to the east, and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. It comprises the westernmost part of Eurasia.

Region of Murcia Autonomous community and province of Spain

The Region of Murcia, is an autonomous community of Spain located in the southeast of the state, between Andalusia and the Valencian Community, on the Mediterranean coast.


Possible reasons [7] for placing a figure representing a person in the act of emptying his bowels in a scene which is widely considered holy include:

Further opinions: [11]

Local reactions

The practice is tolerated by the Catholic church within the areas where the Caganer is popular. Although the tradition generally has popular support, opinion is divided as to whether it is wholly appropriate and not all nativity scenes in Catalonia include caganers.

Similar traditions

The Caganer is not the only defecating character in the Catalan Christmas traditionanother is the Tió de Nadal , which also makes extensive use of the image of fecal matter (it is a log, i.e. tió which, having been "fed" for several weeks, is told to defecate on Christmas Eve and "magically" produces candy for children, a candy that has supposedly come from its bowels). Other mentions of feces and defecation are common in Catalan folklore: indeed, a popular Catalan saying for use before a meal is menja bé, caga fort i no tinguis por a la mort! ("Eat well, shit heartily, and don't be afraid of death!"). In his book Barcelona, architecture critic and locale historian Robert Hughes gives a good introduction to this earthy tradition.

The Caganer can also be found in other European cultures, either as an import or a minor local tradition:

Possible translations of the caganer concept into other languages include:

Traditional vs. modern portrayals

Modern caricature caganers for sale Caganers.jpg
Modern caricature caganers for sale

The traditional caganer is portrayed as a Catalan peasant man (i.e. a farmer or shepherd) wearing a typical hat called a barretina a red stocking hat with a black band. At least since the late 1970s, the figure of a traditional Catalan peasant woman was also added, wearing traditional garb including the long black hairnet.

The Catalans have modified this tradition a good deal since the 1940s. In addition to the traditional caganer design, one can easily find other characters assuming the Caganer position, such as nuns, devils, Santa Claus, celebrities, athletes, historical figures, politicians, Spanish royalty, British royalty, [1] 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. [16]

At markets and exhibits

Caganers are easiest to find before Christmas in holiday markets, like the one in front of the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia, which has many tables of Caganers. Every year new figures are created, and some people collect them. Caganers are the focal point of at least one association (Els Amics del Caganer, i.e. Friends of the Caganer), which puts out a regular bulletin ("El Caganòfil"), and have even been featured in art exhibits.

In recent years a urinating statue, or Pixaner, has also appeared, but it has not taken root or gained any serious popularity.

Controversy surrounding Barcelona's civility ordinance

The caganer in the 2011 official nativity scene in Barcelona's Placa de Sant Jaume Pessebre a la placa de Sant Jaume - caganer.JPG
The caganer in the 2011 official nativity scene in Barcelona's Plaça de Sant Jaume

In 2005, the Barcelona city council provoked a public outcry by commissioning a nativity scene which did not include a caganer. The local government was reported to have countered these criticisms by claiming that the Caganer was not included because a civility ordinance [17] had made public defecation and public urination illegal, meaning that the caganer was now setting a bad example. [18] [19] Many saw this as an attack on Catalan traditions. One writer of a letter to the editor asserted, "A nativity scene without a caganer is not a nativity scene." [20] A second writer offered a win-win solution. He suggested including the caganer but also placing a figure of a police officer with a pen and clipboard next to him, writing a ticket for the infraction. The writer said this would achieve three objectives: respect tradition, comply with the ordinance and educate the public about how it is being reinforced, and finally, demonstrate how important it is to respect the law. [21] Finally, the head of Parks and Gardens publicly denied prohibiting the caganer in the first place, saying that it was the artistic decision of the artist commissioned by the city to design and install the pessebre. [22] Following a campaign against the caganer's absence called Salvem el caganer (Save the caganer), and widespread media criticism, the 2006 nativity restored the caganer, who appeared on the northern side of the nativity near a dry riverbed.

See also

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  1. 1 2 Rainsford, Sarah (23 December 2010). "A traditional Nativity scene, Catalan-style". BBC News. Retrieved 23 December 2010.
  2. Amics del Caganer (Friends of the Caganer). Consulted 23 December 2010.
  3. 1 2 Garske, M. (December 23, 2010). "Weird Christmas Custom: Spot the Pooping Peasant". AOL News. Archived from the original on November 30, 2012.
  4. 1 2 El Caganer, by Jordi Arruga and Josep Mañà. (Barcelona: Alta Fulla, 1992), reproduced on the website Amics del Caganer (Friends of the Caganer). Consulted 23 December 2010.
  5. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-12-15. Retrieved 2008-04-17.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) Amics del Caganer
  6. Jordi Bilbeny, Les arrels precristianes del pessebre de Nadal (The Pre-Christian Roots of the Nativity Scene) [ permanent dead link ] (article in Catalan). Consulted 23 December 2010.
  7. "". Caganer.
  8. Erickson, Brad. Les virtuts cíviques del caganer. Caramella: Revista de música i cultura popular No. 25, pp. 47-50 (2011).
  9. Delgado Ruiz, Manuel. 2001. Luces iconoclastas: Anticlericalism, espacio, y ritual en la España contemporánia, Ariel Antropología. Barcelona: Editorial Ariel.
  10. Erickson, Brad. Les virtuts cìviques del caganer. Caramella: Revista de música i cultura popular. No. 25, pp. 47-50 (2011).
  11. The following opinions are translated from El Caganer, by Jordi Arruga and Josep Mañà. (Barcelona: Alta Fulla, 1992), reproduced on the website Amics del Caganer (Friends of the Caganer). Consulted 23 December 2010.
  12. Reference to this figure on the website: Centre de recherches Hubert de Phalèse - Université de la Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris III (in French). Accessed on 23 December 2010.
  13. Centre National de Ressources Textuelles et Léxicales
  14. 1 2 3 Arruga, J.; Mañá, J. (1992). El Caganer. Alta Fulla.
  15. Whittaker, F. (October 11, 2012). "Christmas Traditions Around the World". MSN.
  16. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-12-06. Retrieved 2008-11-07.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  17. Suñé, Ramon. 2006a. La nueva ordenanza del civismo impera desde hoy en Barcelona. La Vanguadia, January 25.
  18. Caganer, Amics del. 2005. Nova polèmica amb la figura del Caganer 2005 [cited. Available from Archived 2008-02-24 at the Wayback Machine .
  19. Rose, Jeremy (2005-12-25). "Barcelona's Christmas Crapper Canned". Scoop.
  20. Castells, E. 2005. La ausencia de 'caganer' en el pesebre de Sant Jaume enfrenta a los políticos. La Vanguardia de Barcelona, 30/11/2005.
  21. Giménez, Joaquín. 2005. Multa al 'caganer'. La Vanguardia de Barcelona, 29/11/2005.
  22. Castells, E. 2005. La ausencia de 'caganer' en el pesebre de Sant Jaume enfrenta a los políticos. La Vanguardia de Barcelona, 30/11/2005.