Maria Schnabel

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Pooping figurine a must in Catalan Nativities

The traditional Catalan Caganer (pooper) figurine. (Photo by Larry Stevens)

Barcelona, Spain — File this in your collection of unusual Christmas traditions: the figurine of a pooping peasant appearing in Catalonia’s crèches.

Catalonia, in Spain’s northeastern corner, is a region with a strong cultural pride and ancient traditions. The Caganer (the pooper), which has been appearing in manger scenes since the 18th century, is one of them.

The figurine is a favorite among local children, who squeal with delight when they spot it behind a tree, a wall, or under a bridge, modestly hidden from the scene’s otherwise holy surroundings.

Among adults, however, the Caganer donning the barretina (the traditional Catalan red cap) is emblematic of the region’s cultural independence from Spain.

“In its efforts to suppress Catalan culture in 1940s and 50s, the Franco regime went as far as to prohibit the manufacture of the figurine wearing the red cap,” said Joan Lliteras, president of the Associació Amics del Caganer (Friends of the Caganer Association).  Artisans got around the ban by topping the figurines’ heads with other types of headgear.

These days, the Caganer with the red cap is the top seller in Catalonia’s Nativity fairs.  During November and December of every year rows of stands spring up in towns across the region selling materials for manger scenes. Barcelona’s biggest and oldest fair, the Fira de Santa Llúciacelebrates its 225th anniversary this year.

Nativity artisans have been setting up stands in front of Barcelona’s cathedral for 225 years. (Photo by M. Schnabel)

The Caganer’s popularity has inspired new interpretations, much to the dismay of Lliteras’ association. “We defend the traditional Caganer with his traditional red cap and peasant attire,” he said.

The new interpretations began in the 1980s with figurines of squatting clerics as a Catalan reaction against the bishop’s rejection of the pagan character, according to Marc Alós, whose family’s business has propelled the popularity of the Caganer.

Marc Alós holds his firm’s most recent creation: the Caganer waving Catalonia’s independence flag. (Photo by M. Schnabel)

Twenty years ago the Alós family bought the artisan business that made the squatting nun, priest and bishop interpretations, in addition to the more traditional Nativity figures.  Every year since then, the firm,, has introduced new figurines representing the year’s top personalities.  Its collections feature the world’s most notables (including U.S. presidents), local politicians, soccer players, artists, and even the members of the British and Spanish royal families. Thus, the little Christmas-time poopers serve as a reminder of our shared humanity, no matter how powerful a person may be. produces some 40,000 figures a year with a staff of three family members, outsourcing some of the hand painting to special-needs organizations. Prices range from five to 17 euros ($6.6 to $22.4).

Asked whether he receives any complaints from individuals featured in such an undignified pose, Alós said it’s quite the contrary:  The popularity of the Caganer is such that he often gets requests from agents and promoters suggesting their clients be featured as a figurine.

New interpretations of the Caganer began in the 1980s with images of the clergy. (Photo by Larry Stevens)

U.S. Presidents and world-renowned artists such as Salvador Dali are among the many personalities represented. (Photo by M. Schnabel)


  • Off topic: North Pole, elf labor, weird holiday traditions and depressing Christmas songs | SiliconBeat

    […] Back south of the pole, what are your favorite obscure holiday traditions? (Personally, I like the Catalan pooping figurines.) And finally, here are the five most depressing Christmas songs of 2014. (Including a Mark Kozalek […]

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