7th December, El Caganer
This cheeky fellow is what the Catalans called “El Caganer” – literally the pooper – and has been a characteristic of traditional Nativity scenes all over Catalonia for centuries. No self-respecting Catalan Bethlehem scene would be complete without him! Yet although an integral and essential part of the scene, this colourful character is often difficult to spot. He is usually to be found in an ‘outlying’ area – behind a suitably placed bush, for example – and not actually centre stage with the infant Jesus himself!
Originally, the Caganer was always portrayed as a Catalan peasant wearing a traditional hat called a barretina — a red stocking hat (sometimes with a black band), a bit like a Liberty or Phrygian cap. Nowadays, he comes in many shapes and forms, from monk to shepherd, Barcelona or Madrid football player to famous film star – all performing the exact same action – defecating. That’s right! They are actually squatting down, with their trousers round their knees, having a bowel movement! A google search will soon reveal Barak Obama, Queen Elizabeth II, Nicolas Sarkozy, even Pope Benedict, all having what the cockneys call an “Eartha Kitt!”
So what do these figures of El Caganer actually stand for? Believe it or not, the widely-accepted answer to that question is really a very simple one. Their ”fertilizer” enriches the earth around them, thus promising a buena cosecha (a good harvest) during the forthcoming year. This translates into a general good omen for the future. Upon purchasing a Caganer, you are told that owning him will bring good luck and prosperity. Another explanation is that he represents the equality of all people: regardless of status, race, or gender, everyone poops! One thing is certain, they say much about the Catalan sense of humour. I hope he does not cause you (too much) offense. If the Catholic church in Catalonia accept him, I am sure you can do the same.
I have shown our man attending to nature’s needs in the beautiful Catalan countryside. In the background stands Montserrat (which literally means “jagged or serrated mountain” in Catalan), a mountain shrine outside Barcelona. The name describes the peculiar aspect of the rock formation, which is visible from a great distance. The mountain is composed of strikingly pink conglomerate and has a Benedictine Abbey near its summit where the famous Black Madonna is housed. The Jesuit order was founded here by St Ignatius of Loyola.
Illustration copyright © Paul Bommer