More crap for Christmas: The Catalan tradition of the crapping Caganer in the Santa hat

By on December 25, 2016

As you probably know by now – hate to break this to you if you don’t — everybody poops. Yes, even Santa and Santa’s elves (probably Mrs. Claus too), and at Maremagnum shopping mall in Barcelona, Spain, they have a traditional Christmas decoration of a huge pooping elf — more accurately, the Caganer — that is beloved by the Catalonia people. The music in this clip, by the way, sorta blew our minds.

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The exact origin of the Caganer — which roughly translated means “The Pooper,” although other translations we’ve seen say he’s known as “The Shitter,” “The Defecating Man,” and “The Man Doing His Duty” — isn’t known for sure, but the tradition is said to go all the way back to the 17th century, and today it is even tolerated even by the Catholic church.

The image of the squatting pooper is supposed to represent happiness, good luck, and above all, fertile soil growth. You see, the Caganer is actually supposed to be a pooping farmer, whose very poop is the fertilizer that promises good and plentiful crops for coming year.

Typically, figurines show him dressed in the traditional Catalan peasant garb, with his pants down pulled down around his ankles, and having already taken a large successful dump, the turds piled up nicely.

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At Christmatime, however, the Caganer is turned into one of Santa’s elves, where one might otherwise expect to see a large Christmas tree.

The Caganer is actually part of the traditional modern-era Catalan nativity display you’ll see in that part of Spain — as well as the rest of Spain, parts of Italy and Southern France — where you’ll see Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus in the manger, or course, and some shepherds standing by, but often, if you look closer, back there where there are cows and other barnyard animals, you’ll see the you see a Caganer, taking a dump in a corner of the biblically-themed diorama (he’s never seen pooping anywhere near the manger, we’re told, so you baby Jesus freaks can relax).

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The huge pooper is so beloved in Barcelona that ten years ago, in 2005, the city council had to deal with a huge public outcry when a city-installed nativity scene did not include a Caganer, and many locals saw this as a direct attack on their Catalan traditions. The local government claimed that the new laws made public defecation and urination illegal, and thus the Caganer could not be displayed, but they brought back the big ol’ pooper after they realized it was part of a tradition that people didn’t want to give up. People need their traditional shit, you know.

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The Caganer is so popular and has been for decades that it has become an even larger part of their pop culture, so much so that you can purchase figurines showing famous worldwide celebrities assuming the pose of the pooping man (or woman), including political figures, like President Obama from the United States. Children can enjoy chocolate dispensing caganers that shit out candy at the touch of a button, and we understand they are popular tourist purchases. People love to bring that shit home.

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The Caganer is not the only fecally related tradition at Christmastime. Beginning on December 8th each year, Catalan families also enjoy the the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, where they bring out Tió de Nadal, or Caga Tió (which means “shitting log”). The log is painted with a smiling face and stands on two tiny stick legs.

Every night until December 24th, the children are instructed by their parents to give the Tió a little bite to “eat” — he’s fed orange peel and turrón (a type of Spanish nougat), and it’s thought that the more the Caga Tió is fed, the more presents or Christmas goodies he’ll excrete from his butt come Christmas day.

Each night, parents swap out logs of different sizes in order to show that the the log “growing” in size from the food bites provided by the children.

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Then, on Christmas Eve, the Tió is placed partly under his blanket and the children order it to defecate, and they’re told that Caga Tió needs some persuasion to drop his load on Christmas day, so they’re given sticks in order to beat him into delivering his many and various festive offerings.

While beating the Caga Tió, Catalan children traditionally sing a song — the words may vary from each Spanish town to the next, but the tune stays the same. A typical version goes something like this:

“Caga tió, caga torró, avellanes i mató, si no cagues bé et daré un cop de bastó. Caga tió!” (this translates literally to “Shit log, shit turrón, hazelnuts and cottage cheese, if you don’t shit well, I’ll hit you with a stick.”)

We suppose this teaches the children a valuable lesson about caring for and nurturing something, just before you literally beat the shit out of it with a stick on Christmas.

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(h/t Christopher Bickel at Dangerous Minds for doing a post before we did — thanks for the inspiration!)

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • Amalia Maloney

    I just wrote about this yesterday, but only the part about the Log character. I didn’t even know they have figurines of a farmer taking a dump! Have you come across the song featuring Norah Jones in an Anthony Bourdain holiday special? It’s hilarious! You can find it in my article: http://amaliavida.com/spain-for-christmas/

    You wrote a great article. Thanks!