It’s one of the world’s most instantly recognisable scenes. The Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus, the faithful Joseph looking on, and all around shepherds, wise men and farmyard animals paying their respects to the new-born Messiah. But who is that red-faced peasant lurking in the shadows? And what the hell is he doing? Surely not! Not in front of the son of God? And yet your eyes do not deceive you: the impish wretch in the red beret has hiked down his britches in the middle of the manger and is taking a shit!
In most Catholic countries this would be considered blasphemy of the first order, and no doubt require convent-loads of rosaries to reach atonement, but here in Catalonia taking a dump in the nativity scene is surprisingly enough considered good clean fun. Indeed the figure responsible, called ‘the Caganer’ (meaning ‘defecator’), is held up as a symbol of fertility and even equality (everyone has to shit, is the logic here) and celebrated with great mirth by the Catalan folk.
Indeed Catalan kids take great pleasure in hiding the Caganer somewhere in the nativity scene and seeing if their mates can spot the little shitter. Typically the Caganer is a pipe-smoking peasant who wears the traditional red beret of Catalonia but, sensing a merchandising opportunity, a large number of traders will happily hawk you Caganised versions of all manner of familiar faces, from local favourites such as Messi and Joan Laporta to global figures of Barack Obama and the Pope. It seems no one has been spared the indignity of being portayed with their arse bared performing a poop. If this seems like an irresistable stocking filler you can pick them up at the Christmas market by Santa Eulalia Cathedral for 3 euros (plastic peasants) to 15 euros (ceramic celebs).