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Community / Public space

CityMetric Advent 12: Throughout December, Barcelona is filled with defecating figurines

Spain is a very Catholic country, so the onset of Advent means the appearance of nativity scenes in homes, churches and public spaces. Barcelona plays host to many such charming tableaux, complete with shepherds, farm animals, and, come January, the three wise men. On closer inspection, however, Barcelona’s nativity scenes also include one of these:

Image: Slastic at Wikimedia Commons.

Delicately described by Wikipedia as “a figurine depicted in the act of defecation”, these “caganers” (which roughly translates as “shitters”) are a Catalan tradition dating back to the late 17th or early 18th century. The figure is usually tucked away in the corner of the scene; “find the caganer” is a popular children’s game in the city.

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Explanations for the tradition are bafflingly hard to pin down: suggestions include the theory that the Caganer is “fertilising the earth”; that it provides a foil for the saccharinity of Christmas;  that it is or a reference to human equality (after all, everyone shits).

One owner of a shop dedicated to selling the things told the BBC in 2010: “I don’t know why [we do it], it’s just a tradition.”

In 2005, Barcelona’s city government caused an outcry by failing to commisison a caganer as part of the city’s main nativity scene. It responded by citing the recently passed “civility ordinance”, which forbade public urination or defacation. Eventually, a “Save the Caganer” campagin succeeded in reinstating the practice, and the figure appeared once again in the 2006 nativity.

The caganer in Barcelona’s official 2011 nativity scene. Image: Jordiferrer at Wikimedia Commons.

Caganers are usually dressed up as peasants, in a white shirt and red cap, but in recent years manufacturers have become more creative. Now, you can buy caganers in pretty much any shape: angels, devils, politicians, chefs Smurfs, Simpsons, Dora the Explorer, the Queen, and, apparently, President Obama:

Image: Caganercom at Wikimedia Commons.

Our favourite is this Scottish Yes voter, presumably featured because of Catalan sympathies with Scotland’s independence movement:

Image: Getty.

What a way to show solidarity, eh. 

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