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Caganer: Catalonia's Cheekiest Christmas Figure

As the holiday season flashes its jolly face once again, folks around the world have decked their halls and tacked up mistletoe, but they’ve got nothing on the residents of Catalonia, Spain.

 

Forget the Christmas tree and all its fixings. In Spain it’s all about the Belén and how pimped out one can make Jesus’s birthday. Any one who has visited Catalonia during Christmas will tell you, the Catalan people decorate their nativity scenes a wee bit differently.

Hidden away in a dark corner, far from baby Jesus’s innocent eyes, they have reserved a spot for their #1 favorite VIP–a forest shepherd with the most devilish grin you’ve ever seen. Look a bit closer and you’ll quickly realize the reason for his glee. He is shamelessly flashing his plump round butt and below his squatting knees lays a gift for which he clearly wants us to see.

 

His name is Caganer and he is a revered symbol of fertility and success for the upcoming New Year.

Caganer, which literally translates into “Defacator”, is a highly popular nativity figure in Catalonia which some say dates back over 300 years. In today’s modern age, the Caganer’s presence in the nativity scene is considered a hallmark of the Catalan Christmas. Without his presence near the manger, some Catalan’s will argue it is not a nativity scene at all.

In fact, Caganer’s popularity throughout Catalonia is so widespread his plump butt can be found mooning people everywhere from inside gift shops to candy stores. Taken to even bigger extremes, in 2010 the Maremagnum Shopping Centre in Barcelona broke a Guiness World Book Record for erecting a 19 foot 8 inch high Caganer, the biggest of its kind ever constructed.

Year after year as the Caganer fever continues to grow, so do the number of collectors eager to get their hands on these collectible little figurines. Manufacturers like the Alós family, whose company Caganer.com produces up 40,000 Caganers a year, is keen to take advantage of their soaring popularity. To keep up the demand they’ve created a distinct line of Caganers based on noteworthy personalities of the year including President Obama and the Venerable Pope Francis.

Yet despite adding a touch of whimsy to an already cheeky Christmas tradition, not everyone is so pleased with the contemporary twist on the classic Caganer.  Joan Llidinda, President of the Association for the Friends of Caganer whose collection boasts over 600 figurines believes a Caganer’s appearance should remain traditional. He is not alone in this view—70 other members of his organization, spanning from Japan to Spain, have also joined him in the fight. Their efforts to preserve a Caganer’s tradition look stem from the brutal years under the fascist leader, Francisco Franco. Like local dialects, regional dress codes such as the Caganer’s signature red hat were banned from public view.

Whether formally dressed in traditional garb or made to resemble a world leader, Caganers are fertilizing nativity scenes not only in Catalonia but across the world. Will you get one for next Christmas?