In Catalonia, as well as in Spain and in most of Italy and Southern France, traditional Christmas decorations consist of a large model of the city of Bethlehem, similar to the Nativity scenes of the English-speaking world but encompassing the entire city rather than just the typical manger scene. The caganer ... is often tucked away in a corner of the model, typically nowhere near the manger scene.
Possible reasons for placing a man who is in the act of excreting waste in a scene which is widely considered holy include:
- Perceived humor.
- A fun spectacle, especially for children.
- The Caganer, by creating feces, is fertilizing the Earth. However, this is probably an a posteriori explanation, and few cite this reason for including the Caganer in the Nativity scene.
- The Caganer represents the equality of all people: regardless of status, race, or gender, everyone shits.
- Increased naturalism of an otherwise archetypal (thus idealised) story, so that it is more believable, taken literally and seriously.
- The idea that God will manifest himself when he is ready, without regard for whether we human beings are ready or not.
- The caganer reinforces that the infant Jesus is God in human form, with all that being human implies.
The exact origin of the Caganer is lost, but the tradition has existed since the 17th century.
So, there we go. We've all (sort of?) learned something new and can consider ourselves that much smarter. Not as smart as Einstein, of course, and if you shop at http://www.caganer.com you already know that he poops too. Hey, everybody does it!