Ok, I was teaching class last night to my Catalan student of 31 yrs of age. Because the class consists of a lot of English conversation and since it is almost Christmas, we started talking about local traditions.
I was truly surprised when he explained to me the Catalan tradition of the Caganer. Cagar literally means 'to defecate' so you can imagine what Caganer means. I told my student I almost didn't believe him and wanted to research this on my own to make sure since I actually haven't seen any Caganers yet.
Basically, they are squatting figurines in the process of defecating that people locate in a position hidden from the Nativity Scene. It is now popular to buy figurines of politicians and famous people in this position. But it is true, and I found some info if you want to read about and go to the website for a picture of one.
These texts are excerpts from the book "El Caganer", by Jordi Arruga and Josep Mañà.
Also, see http://www.amicsdelcaganer.org/angles/index1.htm
We can define the caganer as an element of popular imagery which represents an individual, squatting with buttocks exposed, satisfying his physiological needs in the open air. The best-known version of this personality is, without a doubt, the genuine and unique figure that is found forming a part of our homemade Nativity scenes. He also has been called "the shitter", "the defecating man", or "the man doing his duty". He is sometimes accompanied by a pig which has eagerly sniffed out the perpetrator. The caganer is traditionally placed under a bridge, behind a haystack, or otherwise discretely hidden, since it would show a lack of respect if this figure were situated in the landscape where he would be visible from the crib of the Nativity or to those who come to adore the Christchild. It is customary for children, when contemplating the scene, to ask, "Where is the caganer?", then entertain themselves by looking for him.
The caganer does not appear exclusively in Nativity scenes, but also in other popular imagery. During the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, with a preponderance of craftsmen’s unions, we find our caganer appearing as a motif among typical tiles depicting various trades. There are also 19th century ballads in Spanish and Catalan which make mention of the caganer and the action he performs. It is possible that the caganer was first incorporated into the Nativity scene during the Barroque period – at the end of the 17th or beginning of the 18th centuries. This was a time characterized by extreme realism, above all in still-lifes and local liturature, all of which relied heavily on descriptions of local life and customs. Here, working conditions and homelife were used as artistic themes. In this manner, aspects of actual daily life which previously went unappreciated, acquired a more dignified standing. Within the momentum of Barroque and the realistic themes of written works, the caganer takes on all of his significance, crude, ironic and scatologic all at once, representing the human condition and its obligations to nature. It is a figure which is very identifiable with and appropriate to the rural environment of his origins.
The Nativity scene, an artificial representation of the mystery of Christmas, originally could only be found in churches and convents – following the example of Saint Francis of Asisi, who constructed a living crèche on Christmas night in the year 1223. Little by little, idea took shape in private homes. The aristocratic homes of the 18th century were the first to erect monumental crèches, visited by many local people. Later the custom extended to the villages, and its enormous popularity endured so that, even today, it remainsone of the most vibrant elements in our popular art.
The washerwoman, the shepherd boy, the woman feeding chickens, the Magi, the caganer and other figures, along with an assortment of fowl, cork houses and silver-paper rivers, placed on bits of moss and cork in a corner of the dining room, give the illusion of a happy world and add a bit of nature to our homes.
The traditional caganer figure depicts a squatting farmer topped with a barretina, the traditional Catalan cap. He often smokes a cigarrette or pipe as he answers nature’s call. Sometimes his props include an open newspaper, reading to pass the time while completing his task, which will later be put to use in “cleaning up”. In reference to the feminine variation of this popular figure we must mention that 30 years ago or so, these caganera figures also began to be produced. These were first created by Lluís Vidal, a well-known figure-making craftsman in Barcelona. These first caganeras coincided with the time when miniskirts made their appearance on the streets. Among these more personalized types there are also figures dressed in traditional Hebrew apparel.
Each year some craftsmen create unusual caganers in the forms of novelties or caricatures, provoked by some particular current event or just to satisfy collectors. Among these unique models we can include caganers dressed in the colors of the local Barça or Espanyol football teams, the “Olympic caganer”, by Godia at Christmas 1986, the year Barcelona received its nomination as an Olympic city, and the caganer paying homatge to the pilgrims of the “Camino de Santiago” (Santiago Trail in Galicia), presented in 1999 by Anna Mª Pla in recgognition of an anniversary of the route. As with the “giants” which embellish processions during local festivals, some villages and towns have their own caganer figures which represent a special characteristic of the area. The towns of Ripoll, Bagà, Centelles and Anglès are examples of this.
Although Catalunya is where the caganer is the most poular and established and has the most tradition, by no means is it exclusive to this area. We have also found them in créches in Múrcia (Spain), Portugal, Naples (Italy),to name a few other locations. They go by the names “cagones”, “cagöes” and “cacone”, or more simply, “the pooping shepherd”.