A Caganer (ka-ga-neh) is a little statue unique to Catalonia, a region of Spain.
In their Nativity scenes, the Catalans have added an extra character that is not found in the manger scenes of any other culture. In addition to Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the Shepherds and company, Catalans have the character known as the Caganer. This extra little character is often tucked away in some corner of the scene where he is not easily noticed. There is a good reason for his obscure position in the display, for "caganer" translates from Catalan to English as "defecator", and that is exactly what this little statue is doing — defecating.
The reasons for placing a man who is in the act of excreting solid waste from his posterior in a scene which is widely considered holy are as follows:
The Caganer, by creating feces, is fertilizing the Earth. Thus, he is considered a symbol of prosperity and luck for the coming year.
Finding the Caganer is a fun game, especially for children.
The exact origin of the Caganer is lost, but the tradition has existed since the 18th century. Originally, the Caganer was portrayed as an eastern peasant wearing a traditional hat called a barretina — a red stocking hat with a black band.
The Catalans have modified this tradition somewhat since the 1940s. In addition to the traditional caganer design, you can easily find other characters assuming the caganer position, such as nuns, devils, Santa Claus, celebrities, athletes, historical figures, politicians, Spanish royalty, and other famous people past and present, including Pope John Paul II, Salvador Dalí, prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Princess Letizia and even Osama bin Laden.
The practice is tolerated by the local Catholic church. Caganers are easiest to find before Christmas in holiday markets, like the one in front of the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia, which has tables and tables of caganers. Caganers have even been featured in art exhibits.
The caganer is not the only defecating character in the Catalan Christmas tradition—another is the Tió de Nadal, which also makes extensive use of the image of human waste production. Other mentions of feces and defecation are common in Catalan folklore. One popular Catalan phrase before eating says "menja bé, caga fort!" (Eat well, shit strong!).