I have writen here before about nativity scenes. But what I didn’t mention is the fact that there are more than just the standard (small) statues that one can see all over the world. Oh no! There are more: It’s Barack Obama as you’ve never seen him before: crouched with his pants around his ankles, bottom unashamedly bared to the world, depicted in the act of defecation.
It’s not just the US president caught in one of the most private of moments. Everyone from Michael Jackson and Madonna to Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth has been immortalized as little pooping ceramic figurines thanks to an odd centuries-old Spanish Christmas tradition. It dates back to the 1700s, when a peasant farmer version of the squatting statues began popping up in Christmas nativity scenes across the region of Catalonia, alongside the usual reverent medley of wise men, shepherds and baby Jesus. He was christened “El Caganer,” which translates most politely as “the defecator.” The neat pile of poop beneath him is considered a sign of fertility and good fortune. These days one can see the poopers all over Spain.
Although debate continues as to exactly why, one theory dating back to the 18th century explains that peasant farmers who couldn’t afford fertilizer fashioned a do-it-yourself approach to soil improvement, dropping their own fertilizer bombs across their fields each day.Plentiful poop meant plentiful crops — and pretty soon the act became a good-luck charm in statue form. There was a legend that if a countryside man did not put a caganer in the nativity scene, he would have a very bad year collecting vegetables
The Catholic Church mostly turns a blind eye to Spain’s strangely scatological nativity tradition, according to which the bare-bottomed farmer is usually hidden somewhere in the corner. Over time, the traditional peasant caganer was joined by a host of celebrities, politicians and sports stars from Spain and abroad.
Sergi Alós Pla, whose family has hand-made caganers in the city of Girona for the past two decades, says the dubious honor is a mark of respect, although he dryly admits that “some people like it more than others.” His company’s famed Caganer.com catalogue boasts more than 350 characters, with 40 new faces added amid grand fanfare each November to the amusement and delight of tourists, who snap them up as kooky souvenirs.
Obama joined the pool in 2008 after winning the US presidency and quickly became a best-seller. Among this year’s newbies are Che Guevara, Napoleon, Beethoven, Humphrey Bogart, Captain America and the Mario Brothers, as well as Pablo Iglesias, leader of the upstart Spanish left-wing party Podemos (We Can), who was belatedly added after popular demand.
Whatever your thoughts, if you find yourself traveling in the country around Christmas time I would highly encourage you to take a second look at the scaled down Bethlehem and see if you can find their little ‘caganer’.