Catalonia hosts a strange crouching Christmas character in its nativity scene: a defecating farmer. The traditional Catalan Christmas caganer, as it is known, is today more than a festive oddity in Catalan culture. In our present state of world affairs, it is a mascot for our time.
Typically wearing a Catalan hat, girdle and pants, El Caganer (‘the pooper’) appears squatting in the nativity scene, pants around their ankles, releasing a poo onto the stable floor. For most of us it seems at odds with what the nativity represents, but not to the Catalans. It is believed that, with their faeces, these farmers fertilize the soil for the following year. It is a symbol of luck and joy, which is in line with the nativity scene. In a more abstract way, it is also a symbol of conception – the farmer is in effect promoting, in their unique way, the creation of life.
But before we question Catalan manuring methods – and not something you’d want to think about while enjoying a glass of locally-produced Cava from the farmer’s vineyard – the caganer represents more than just excrement-induced fortuity.
The Catalan love of land and people
It shows how the Catalans value their land, the importance of its farming, and pride of its people. The farmer looks after the land and provides our food. The caganer is therefore an esteemed symbol; if you are depicted as such, you garner respect. Because of this the caganer often takes the form of various celebrities, squatting in position. Rather than being derisive, it is an honour to be caganer’d. Although not all foreign celebrities depicted in this way would agree.
It is also a reminder of our closeness to nature. We are all creatures on this planet, we are all connected to it, and what we do affects the environment we live in. The caganer is doing a good thing by fertilizing the land. And without the use of dangerous chemicals!
The Caganer symbolises harmony
As vulgar as the caganer may seem, they are only doing what all of us do, albeit in private and not in front of baby Jesus. From this, the figure symbolizes equality. No matter who we are, how much wealth and prosperity we have, we are in essence all the same. In the words of French thinker Montaigne; ‘Le Roys et les philosophes fientent.’ In English, ‘Kings and philosophers’ shit.’
In this together
And what’s more. 2020 has been a bad year for all of us in light of Covid-19. We have all been negatively affected in some way. It has been, for want of a better term, a bit pooey. The caganer in this respect, with their ability to remind us of our humanity, also remind us that we are in this together. According to Catalan tradition, it is unlucky not to have a caganer in a nativity scene. It makes sense to make the caganer our mascot. We all want next year to be more fortunate than this one.