Another Christmas tradition which is still very popular and widely practiced in Catalonia is the Pessebre Tradition: display and exhibit the nativity scenes in public spaces and at home. Although its origins and theme are religious, mangers are so rooted in our culture that Pessebres are displayed in the town halls of the main principle cities and towns of Catalonia and it is very common to find Pessebres in most homes in the country, specially those with children.
To represent the scene of the birth of Christ and the shepherds going to adore them, people use all kind of materials: aluminum foil to build a river, moss to feature the grass, sand and gravel, cork to represent mountains, etc… And, of course, the figures in the scene can be made of different materials, from porcelain to plastic. Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Ox and the Mule, the Angel, the Shepherds and the Three Wise man on their Camels, these are the main figures that every manger must feature but, in Catalonia, we have another traditional figure that is only featured in local Pessebres: the Caganer.
El Caganer (the defecating man) is a man dressed in white shirt and wearing the typical Catalan hat, barretina, who is half seated and defecating. It doesn’t have a particular role or place in the Pessebre, usually it is placed isolated, doing his necessities in some corner of the scene. It is said to represent the prosperity of the land, as the man excrement fertilize the soil, and it is also that placing the Caganer in the Pessebre will bring luck. As awkward is it might sound, Catalan culture, as well as some expressions in the language, have many features referring to scatology and Caganer is probably the best-known.
Nowadays, Caganer is the most popular figure in the Nativity Secene. If you take a walk around any Christmas Market or Fair, where Pessebre figures are sold, you will realize that the one that is most present and sold is the Caganer, with numberless variations. Since the 1950’s it has become very popular to portray other characters like politicians, celebrities, football players,… assuming the position of Caganer. You’ll probably see little figures of Messi, Obama, the Pope, the Simpsons, and many many other characters ‘pooping’ and waiting to be placed in a Pessebre.
If you are interested in the tradition of mangers and are eager to admire some antique representations and displays that are real pieces of art, we recommend you to pay a visit to the Museu del Pessebre de Catalunya, in the medieval village of Montblanc. It is open until mid February and it can be a good reason, not only to admire different Pessebres of all times, but also to discover a medieval village still fortified by its original walls.