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Christmas Navitity Scene in Catalonia Featuring "El Caganer" (Catalan Defecator)

Updated on October 6, 2014

The Manger Scene or "El Pessebre de Nadal"

Making a manger scene is a favourite activity for the whole family.One of the favorite activities for children during the days leading to Christmas, is to help their parents set up the manger scene or "Belen" in Spanish ("Pessebre" in Catalan). Spanish families are very creative and artistic building their “pessebres”. Some of the traditional commonly displayed set ups are: little farms with animal figurines, a well with a figurine of a woman carrying an anphor on her head, haystacks, little bonfires for the shepherds -so they can cook their soup in the cold December night--surrounded by a small flock of sheep and goats, rustic bridges over little streams --made of aluminum foil-- (some even manage to have running water in their streams). Other common figurines are fishermen with a fishing line over the bridge, a lumberjack carriying a load of timber on his way to the manger, a washerwoman doing her laundry by hand over the stream, different people carrying presents (a lamb, cheese, sausages, etc) . Of course, the figurines of the three wise men, their camels and pages, and their gifts of gold, incense and myrr are always present too. And let's not forget the most important part, the Manger house, where we can find baby Jesus laying in the manger, Mary and Joseph, the Angel, and the faithful cow and donkey on the very back.

These Nativity figurines can be purchased online or in traditional shops, and they are usually made of clay, plastic, ceramic, wood, metal, etc. The prices vary greatly depending on their quality.

Typical Figurine of "El Caganer"

Introducing "El Caganer"

The Caganer, means “the defecator” in Catalan. This tells it all: A figurine of a man with his pants down, in the very act of defecation. (Nowadays it is not unusual to also find figurines of female "caganeras")

The Caganer is usually portrayed as a traditionally dressed Catalan farmer, wearing a red “Barretina” hat, white shirt, black farm pants rolled down, and “espardenyes” (string slippers).He is squatting on the floor to do his business.

(The “caganer” figurine is the --strange but indispensable-- one that must be in all Catalan Nativity scenes for it to be complete. They usually place him in a secluded area, behind a rock or a tree and --of course--away from the manger scene.

It is fun for the children to look all over the “pessebre” trying to spot the ¨caganer¨.

As a full Catalan myself, I grew up with the presence of the “Caganer” in all my manger scenes. Once I got married, I made sure to continue the Caganer tradition in my children´s manger scenes as well.

In my own Catalan opinion- the story behind it is that a Catalan farmer was in Bethlehem and took a poop on its way to the manger to see Baby Jesus. He answered nature´s call regardless of the sacred domain nearby. This describes the attitude of many a Catalan… a bit rebellious against the established church and its traditions.

This Caganer tradition is so strong and dear to the catalans, that they almost make it compulsory. The Catholic Church has turned a blind eye to this tradition and kind of accepted it as a peculiarity of the Catalan parishioners. This is why even in the Nativity scenes build in most churches, the little “Catalan defecator” can also be found.

Affectionate Portray of Caganer Obama

The Modern Day Caganers

Caganer” figurines of all kinds and sizes are sold in the “Fira de Santa Llucia”, in the Plaza de la Sagrada Familia, and also in Plaza Santa Eulalia and in front of the Cathedral in the heart of the Gothic square of Barcelona.

Whole new collections of upgraded “caganers” composed of celebrities, international and local politicians, movie stars, sports champions and controversial characters are now taking over the “caganer” market in Catalonia and giving it a new meaning. It is not unusual --in many Catalan Nativity scenes--to see Obama taking a poop on his way to the Manger.

Other Traditional Things from Catalonia

The “caganer”, along with the “Caga tio”, the “Sardana” (traditional folklore dance), the Sagrada Familia of Gaudi, the famous painters Miro and Dali, “el pa amb tomaquet”(fresh bread with tomato, olive oil and salt) and “l´all i oli” (thick mayonnaise with garlic), make up the identity of this very special ethnic group from Spain.


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    • AshleyGreen profile image


      8 years ago from Going for a stroll

      Wow, that is seriously bizarre! But hey, every culture needs its tradtions!

    • mkngcm profile image


      9 years ago

      I love the Catalan people and it has been good to find out more about the culture and traditions. Clearly written by a Catalan person this was really interesting - thanks.


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