Caganer, n.; (Catalan cagar from Latin cacare.): One who poops.

In Catalonia the Christmas nativity is a big deal. Not only will it include Mary, baby Jesus, the manger, assorted farm animals, the three wise men, and a small stable, but it may spread out to include the entire town of Bethlehem. But even if the nativity is only the basic manger scene, one of the figures will probably be the caganer, a small figure of a person squatting down to relieve himself.

This caganer is often made in the form of someone famous, anyone from a local official to the pope. In recent years the American president George W. Bush has also been a popular choice. The tradition of the caganer being made in the form of august personage has been around since at least the 1600s; a stash of 17th century votives contained one in the image of a holy Iberian warrior defecating on his sword. Modern caganers still usually have a good view of the squatter's rear end and a pile of excrement, although they don't soil anything other than the ground beneath them.

When not mocking the rich and powerful, caganers are usually made in the form of a Catalan peasant, wearing traditional peasant clothes and a red stocking hat with a black band (known as a barretina). They are often 'hidden' in the nativity, both so that they won't be visible to the baby Jesus, and so that kids can play "Find the Caganer". They are often hidden behind a haystack or under a bridge, and may be accompanied by a pig who is snuffling after interesting scents.

Traditionally the caganer is a symbol of fertility, although it is obviously just as important as a symbol of the community's sense of humor. They are tolerated by the Catholic church and local authorities, regardless of who might be pooping. People have claimed that the caganer is also a symbol that God can manifest Himself at anytime, whether or not you're ready, or that all humans are equal, no matter how famous or important.

The caganer is also found in other parts of Europe, although it has a different name in each county. In the rest of Spain he may be known as a cagones, in Naples a cacone or pastore che caca, in Portugal a cagões, and in French speaking countries a Père la Colique. The traditional garb may vary depending on the locality, but the basic motif is the same.

Some of my sources list other names used in German and Dutch, but as far as I can find these are urban legends and/or tasteless jokes. If you live somewhere where a caganer is a Christmas tradition, /msg me with additions.

References: (lots of photos! Including the newly minted Barack Obama caganer.)
THIS is TRUE: 14 December 2008 (more pics.)

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