Perhaps the most amusing Yuletide tradition is that of the the caganer (El Caganer) which literally means “the shitter.” The Christmas Crapper hails from Catalan (or Catalonia), an autonomous region of Spain near the French border. Though primarily found in Catalonia, the Christmas Pooper is also popular in other parts of Spain, along with France, Portugal, and Italy.
Traditionally, the caganer is dressed as a Catalan peasant wearing a redcap common in the region. There’s no implied pooping when it comes to the caganer either. His backside is usually completely bare, and the results of his defecating are left for the world to see. Unlike Yuletide traditions such as the Yule Goat, Krampus, or Santa Claus, the caganer is generally included in nativity scenes along with Joseph, Mary, the baby Jesus, the Three Wise Men, and perhaps a couple of shepherds. (It’s truly a shame that the caganer doesn’t show up in Matthew and Luke-being the two gospels containing birth narratives of Jesus).
Today the caganer can be found in a variety of guises outside of his traditional peasant garb. Celebrities and politicians are often depicted as the caganer, and those interested in purchasing a Donald Trump, Pope Francis, or Vladimir Putin caganger are in luck! Despite the caganer being relatively unknown in much of the United States and Europe, the figure is easily purchased online today.
Depending on the source one reads, the caganer first poops up in either the late 17th Century or the early 18th, and he’s been a part of nativity scenes ever since, but no one is exactly sure why. All sorts of interpretations for the caganer have been shared over the years, with some being more likely than othersThe theory that gets the most attention is that the caganer is somehow related to the Earth’s fertility. The caganer’s defecation symbolizes renewal and according to some sources brings good luck. A popular belief in some parts of Catalan is that a nativity scene without a caganer will result in a poor harvest. Not surprisingly, many have tried to trace this interpretation to some sort of ancient pagan tradition (though without much luck).
Some have looked for a Christian explanation of the caganer. It’s been argued that the peasant cagner’s poo was meant as a present for the baby Jesus. Since manure is needed for fertilizer, it’s not the worst gift one could give in an agricultural community. Others have suggested that the caganer represents that “none shall know the time or place” of Jesus’s return, and that it could happen while we are using the bathroom.
Away from the proposed Christian and pagan origins of the caganer are several more mundane ones. Some think the Christmas pooper represents the more naughty and mischievous sides of human nature. Others have proposed that it might serve as a way to humble rich and powerful figures, or that it’s a symbol of human equality (everybody poops!). The simple fact that the caganer is funny might be another reason for its inclusion at Christmas.
Whatever the reason for the caganer’s existance, it’s a pretty cool little Christmas custom and will be a part of many holiday celebrations for centuries to come.