Even The New York Times recently published an article about the Caganer – literally, “the Shitter” – a Catalan Christmas tradition that surprises nearly everybody. So what exactly is it? Well, the Caganer is a little ceramic man squatting down and pooping at the Nativity scene.
And then there’s the Pooping Log (Tió) tradition — a log that poops presents to kids for Christmas. Actress Kate McKinnon said a few weeks ago on Seth Meyers’ late show that she wants to import that one to the US.
So what is the deal with Catalan people and poop? That is the question that comes up time and again when non-Catalans first hear about these traditions.
Poop to fertilize the ground
Nobody knows for sure why there is a man doing his business in the Nativity scene. As Jordi Arruga, a member of the “Amics del Caganer” (“Shitter friends”) association explains, “the Shitter appeared for the first time in the late 17th century.”
It makes sense, as this period was influenced by the Baroque style, an artistic movement based on hyperrealism and that was not uncomfortable with disgusting scenes.
Since then the Shitter has become a central part of every Catalan Nativity scene. The most accepted interpretation of this figure, according to Sergi Alòs, the managing director of Caganer.com, is that “with his poop, the Shitter is nourishing the ground of the Nativity scene to make the next years’ harvest better.”
And history supports this theory, as Joan Amades wrote in his Costumari català, a book about Catalan folklore: “The Shitter was a mandatory figure of the 19th-century Nativity scenes, because people said that with his stool he fertilized the ground of the scene and thus health and wellness was guaranteed for the following year.” He continues: “Putting in the Shitter brought luck and happiness, and not putting it in brought misfortune”.
A kid's game
“Where is the Shitter?” may be one of the most repeated questions during the Christmas season in Catalonia, mainly in households with little kids. The game consists of hiding the Shitter every day in a different position in the Nativity scene and then telling the kids to look for it. In fact, for the writer and historian Joan de Déu Domènech, the Shitter illustrates very well the Catalan way of life: “Despite the glorious events occurring at that time, the character wastes no time and saves on fertilizers.”
Figures bought by Americans
“Forty-eight percent of foreign sales at Caganer.com come from the United States,” explains Alòs. “Just like Catalan people, the Americans are very scatological,” he adds. Around 15% of Caganer.com sales are from foreigners. What do they think about it?
Hannah Miles, a British woman who has lived in Catalonia for two months, does not get the point of this figure: “I don't really understand how it’s part of the Christmas story,” she tells EL PAÍS. Thomas Batschelet, who recently visited Barcelona, says: “I am surprised that such a figure is approved by religious persons, but I find it hilarious!”
Denise Vitiello, an Italian living in Catalonia, says that every year she has to “bring a Shitter to all my relatives and Italian friends, because after seeing it in my home they wanted to have one in their own Nativity scene.”
Public figures become Shitters
Messi, Obama and Darth Vader. These are the top-three Shitters, besides the classical one. But why are there Shitters with celebrity faces (or should that be feces?)? Alòs explained that “during the economic crisis” they had to think about something that could save his company, so they decided “to reinvent the Shitter figure and design versions of it for famous people,” and it worked. According to Alòs, the success of figurines of famous people pooping lies in the fact that it is funny to see “someone that is usually serious in an unserious situation.”
This 2016 the main new releases are Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Carles Puigdemont (the Catalan premier), and characters from Star Wars and Game of Thrones.
The texts will be prepared by journalism students at the Pomepeu Fabra University (UPF), who will be adapting content from Catalan current affairs every week, adding extra information and explanation to these stories so that they can be understood in a global context.