Setting up a nativity in Catalonia? Don’t forget the pooper

Since it’s Christmas-time, this is your annual reminder that in Catalonia, a traditional part of the nativity scene for the past couple of hundred years or so is the “caganer,” a small figurine of someone taking a crap. It’s become such a prominent tradition that dignitaries such as former US president Barack Obama have been given figurines of themselves as “caganer.”

Why? Interestingly enough, no one is really sure. The following is from Vox:

“Though excrement is gross, for peasants and farmers it’s actually important since it serves as fertilizer. Some think the caganer was originally a portent of good harvest and fortune to come, a type of fertility symbol. “There was the legend that if a countryside man did not put a caganer in the nativity scene, he would have a very bad year collecting vegetables,” Joan Liiteras, a caganer connoisseur, told the BBC. In the words of an old Spanish proverb, “Dung is no saint, but where it falls it works miracles.”

There might also be theological reasons for the nativity addition. According to Maureen Tilley, professor of Christianity at Fordham University, the caganer is significant because it’s a reminder of the early Christian belief in the Incarnation: that in order to redeem humanity, God had to be fully embodied (incarnated) in human flesh. And what’s a more unifying human trait than “Everybody Poops”?

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