El Caganer is a traditional nativity scene character who poops in the nativity scene. Yes, really. He squats with his pants pulled down around his knees, ready to poop. He is a figurine for the nativity scene, usually made out of the same material as the rest of the figures in the same nativity scene – ceramic, wood, plastic, and so on. His name, El Caganer, means The Pooper. He poops on nativity scenes throughout Spain and Italy, but most especially in the region known as Catalonia.
Of course, he usually isn’t very prominent in the scene. In fact, he is usually tucked away in some corner of the scene, or hidden in the back. In more elaborate scenes, he can be difficult to find. He is sort of like a “Where’s Waldo?” of the nativity. Half the fun of El Caganer is finding him.
The question is, though, why is he there? Well, obviously, he is traditional. He is there because he’s supposed to be there because he’s always been there. But why?
Nobody really knows for sure why the first El Caganer appeared in a nativity scene. That information is lost to history. However, El Caganer means quite a lot of different things to the Catalonian people.
El Caganer brings luck. Putting him in the nativity scene will bring luck and fortune to your household throughout the rest of the year.
El Caganer is a symbol of fertility. His act of pooping fertilizes the earth. The fertilizer causes new growth, and helps living things to flourish.
El Caganer adds humanity to the divine scene. Jesus was a human being, like us. He had a physical body, and, yes, he pooped. Jesus was the special son of God, of course, but he was still entirely human, with all that entails. El Caganer reminds us of that. He also brings a very realistic touch to the heavenly scene.
Most importantly, El Caganer adds a note of whimsy. His obviously bawdy stance is simply funny – at least, it appeals to the juvenile in most people. A little touch of humor in the nativity scene adds lots of fun.
Of course, El Caganer is never too very near the manger, or anywhere in the center of the action. He’s always off in a corner. People often hide him in very clever ways. Finding him has become a game. People invite their friends over to see how quickly their friends can find El Caganer in their household nativity scenes. Public nativity scenes hide El Caganer in crafty ways. Everyone knows to look for him, so they do – and the harder he is to find, the more they enjoy the hunt. He is very much like an Easter egg.
Many people from the English-speaking world find El Caganer shocking. Some may find him offensive. Some may even think he seems sacrilegious. Rest assured that the people of Catalonia do not think so.
The people of Catalonia are an earthier people than the Americans and British are, and they simply do not see what the fuss is all about. Some of them will tell you that El Caganer adds to the holiness of the scene by symbolically bringing together flesh and the spirit, as Jesus did at his birth. Others will tell you that El Caganer is simply a harmless bit of fun. In any case, El Caganer takes away nothing from the central message but maybe adds a little human interest.