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Blog · Barcelona · How To Experience the Caganer Catalan Tradition in Barcelona

How To Experience the Caganer Catalan Tradition in Barcelona

By Eoghan Ó Rónáin
statue at the caganer shop

Are you planning to take a trip to the jewel of the northern Mediterranean that is Barcelona? You might know it has many Catalan customs and cultural oddities, but none are quite so unusual as the centuries-old caganer.

The traditional figure of el caganer, which literally translates to “the defecator” or “the pooper,” may sound strange to outsiders, but it’s a beloved and important part of Catalan Christmas celebrations. Not visiting during the holidays? You can still be part of the caganer tradition here in Barcelona! 

In this article, we will take a closer look at the history and significance of el caganer and how you can get up close and personal with this peculiar chap during your trip.

What is the caganer?

Caganers statues

The caganer is a small figurine who comes in varying sizes, often made of clay or porcelain, that depicts a person squatting, with their pants down, in the act of pooping. 

The figure is usually hiding somewhere in the nativity scene, behind a tree or in a corner as he does his business. It is considered a sort of good luck charm and is thought to bring prosperity, fertility, and good fortune to the household.

History of the caganer

The exact origins of the caganer are uncertain, but it is believed to have existed in Catalonia since the 18th century. Some experts think that the figure may even have originated from ancient fertility rituals, while others suggest that it was the people’s way of rebelling against the church’s strict rules and authority in what was then turning to be a more secular population.

The caganer is often seen as an equalizer of sorts against greater powers because he is a reminder of the humanity within us all. No matter who we are or where we come from, we all poop! 

In fact today, you can find a whole host of varied interpretations of this figurine, including celebrity and political figures, animals, and fictional characters. Bare-bottomed versions of everybody from Tina Turner to Joe Biden, and even the Statue of Liberty can be seen lining the walls of Barcelona’s caganer shops.

Caganer parody statues

During the 20th century, the popularity of the caganer began to spread beyond Catalonia and into other regions of Spain and even other countries. Today, el caganer is an integral part of Catalan Christmas celebrations and is a symbol of the region’s unique culture and identity.

How to experience the caganer tradition today

If the next time you’re in town, you’re interested in experiencing the caganer tradition, there are several ways to go about it. Many souvenir shops sell small figurines that you can take home with you. At Christmas time, in particular, you will find the Mercat de Nadal in the Plaça Nova overflowing with stalls of all sorts of crazy characters and creatures which have been caganer-ified!

You can also try your hand at painting your own caganer figure, either by joining a workshop or purchasing a do-it-yourself kit. Consider joining us for our Weird Catalan Traditions Walking Tour, which includes the painting your own caganer as an optional add-on experience.

Since the tour covers many of Catalionia’s strangest traditions, the paint-your-own caganer activity from the largest caganer business in Catalonia is the perfect way to end it. I can guarantee it will be a quirky, fun, and immersive experience — one you will remember for years to come! Plus, you get to bring home a one-of-a-kind souvenir.

What it’s like to paint your own caganer

Caganer painting experience

I’m a Barcelona tour guide, but I was lucky enough to take the tour as a guest and paint my own caganer. To give you a peek behind the scenes, here’s what my experience was like.

After winding your way around the Old Town with your guide, exploring the world of Catalan traditions and oddities, you’ll come to one of the principal caganer workshops in the city. You’re welcomed by the team and get a conference call with an unorthodox artist who makes the figurines out in their rural HQ. He’ll give you a range of tips on how to make your caganer shine.

Then you get to painting. For me, this was the fun part. The workshop itself was large with tables so we could face each other and chat away as we worked on our stinky wee pals. In a way I never expected, painting a man pooping was a very mindful experience! 

We laughed, we painted, we got to know each other even better, and in the end we got to take our little fellas home with us. I’ll never forget the experience, or the bad jokes — looking at you, Carlos — that we shared. I painted mine like a leprechaun in hope of doubling down on that old lucky charm factor. All in all, it was a blast.

Taking the caganer tradition home with you

Caganer statues

El caganer may be a strange and unorthodox tradition, but it is also a unique and cherished part of Catalan culture. 

By learning about the history and significance of this quirky figure as well as the broader festivals and traditions of Catalonia, you can gain a deeper appreciation for this proud region’s culture, and identity. So don’t be shy — embrace the weird and wonderful world of the caganer during your trip to Barcelona!

If you’re interested in our Catalan pooper, I’m guessing you’re not afraid to venture off the beaten path. May I suggest the Raval district? It’s edgy and under the radar, but this neighborhood is a great addition to your Barcelona itinerary. Check out our blog guide on 15 things to do in Raval for inspiration.