The “Caganer” in Catalonian Nativity Scenes

The informant is a 20 year old student at the Roski art school. She’s originally from Los Angeles but her mother is from Spain. She goes back to visit every year. Below, she shares an interesting Christmas tradition.

“So compared to Americans, Catalonians are known for being fond of scatological humor, so like they love bathroom humor. So even during Christmas traditions those jokes come out. Most families in Catalonia for Christmas set out a nativity scene and its customary to hide two special figurines in the nativity scene, one is the “Caganer” and the other is the “Pissener,” which literally translate to shitter and pee-er. And you’re supposed to hide them very strategically for little kids to find them. And it’s just like a cool Easter egg in there, you’re looking at the baby Jesus and all of a sudden you see a guy taking a shit in the woods. They’re little store bought figurines, I feel like everyone has the same ones. They literally have their pants down, and there’s even a little turd for the “Caganer.” I visit my family every year, usually during Christmas, so I was given the task of hiding the figurines and looking for them.”


Analysis: Nativity scenes are of course very important in various cultures during Christmas, but the inclusion of the Caganer, or shitting person, is a phenomenon mostly isolated to Catalan, but widespread throughout the region. The Caganer humanizes an otherwise perfect scene, even if his activity is grotesque. In my research I found a contemporary analysis by ethnographer Joan Amades that posits that the act of defecating fertilizes the ground of the nativity scene, ensuring fertility and good fortune for the coming year.