Caganer: the peculiar protagonist at Catalan Christmas markets

The Caganer nativity scene figurine is an established tradition which is also reinvented every year to reflect politics and pop culture

Caganer figurines at the Santa Llúcia market in Barcelona in December 2018 (by ACN)
Caganer figurines at the Santa Llúcia market in Barcelona in December 2018 (by ACN) / Rachel Bathgate

Rachel Bathgate | Barcelona

December 20, 2018 07:00 PM

With December 25 round the corner, one of the most typical places to go to feel the holiday cheer is a Christmas market. Quaint wooden stalls festooned with lights selling ornaments, gifts, Christmas trees, and nativity figurines…and in Catalonia, these includes a most peculiar character: the caganer!

Santa Llúcia, a Barcelona icon

You can find the statuette in markets throughout the country – but if you happen to be in the Catalan capital, the place to go is the Santa Llúcia market, at the foot of the gothic cathedral. It’s named after the saint celebrated on December 13, and it has a long history. Held since at least the end of the 1700s, it’s survived through the centuries despite calamities and epidemics.


Nowadays it’s frequented both by tourists and locals, who go there to find most anything they may need for the holidays. This includes items that call back to the fair’s history, such as nativity scene statues, as well as more comforting and common Christmas wares like trees, ornaments, flashing lights, and gifts to give.

Scatological characters

Yet, Catalan Christmas markets do have their own, particular quirks. For example, a friendly-looking log with painted on features can be found in its stands, the local ‘Tió’ Christmas tradition. But no element is perhaps as notorious as its also-scatological character, the caganer.

Instantly recognizable, this ceramic nativity scene figurine is traditionally depicted donning a red cap, white peasant shirt, and black trousers dropped…defecating (and graphically, at that). Indeed, its name literally means ‘the crapper.’


A long history and a modern twist

It’s been around since the 18th century, and its origins are disputed. Since its arrival, though, it’s since become a staple – if an eccentric one – to both Catalan nativity scenes, and souvenir collections. They can be found year-round – although they retain a special throne at Christmas markets – and they can be purchased as almost any political or pop culture character.

Every year, the largest companies release the new people (or fictional characters) to be sculpted answering the call of nature. This 2018, new additions to the caganer family from company include both characters from the Catalan push for independence as well as the recently deceased soprano Montserrat Caballé and the late pop star David Bowie – something which the organization sees as an homage.

And why has it stuck around? Well, it’s thought to bring good luck, as poo is good fertilizer!


A Catalan Christmas market may not be celebrated in the snow, and its nativity characters may be wacky, but one thing’s for certain: these traditions are well-loved, and make for a festive holiday season, indeed.