In 1997, South Park, the not-for-kids cartoon, made its debut. The show focuses on the lives of four elementary school students — Stan, Kyle, Kenny, and Cartman — and often crosses the line of good taste to make these kids’ adventures into laugh-a-minute entertainment.
The first season’s Christmas episode is as good of an example as any. Kyle, who is Jewish, is chosen to play Joseph of Nazareth in the school play. Kyle’s parents object and the town’s grownups get into a heated argument about the appropriateness of such performances at a public school. But Kyle has a solution: he wants to sing a song about Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo, an anthropomorphized rod of feces which wears a Santa hat which, at this point, only Kyle is aware of. Kyle argues that Mr. Hankey is the perfect compromise, as he’s non-denominational and entirely inoffensive.
In the real world? Kyle would be wrong. If you live in Catalonia, a manger isn’t a bona fide nativity scene unless it features a defecating figurine called a caganer.
The caganer, as seen in the example pictured above, leaves little to the imagination. The figurine is squatting with its pants down around its ankles, with a pile of poop exactly where one would expect. As tradition dictates, the caganer is to be placed somewhere in the nativity scene but not in obvious view. But even if slightly hidden, for many Catalans, the caganer is a requisite element to the scene.
They first appeared in the 16th or 17th century but the reasons why are unknown. There are many theories as to the caganer’s meaning and no consensus. One line of thought suggests that the caganer is fertilizing the scene, signifying renewal. Another holds that the caganer is a representation of humanity’s basic equality — after all, everybody poops. Or, perhaps, the caganer is simply a practical joke memorialized over years of repetition.
While most of Catalonia appreciates the caganer (or, in the case of the Catholic churches in the area, tolerate the figurines), the city of Barcelona failed to include one in its 2005 nativity scene, citing a new ordinance which barred relieving oneself in public. (Apparently, public urination and defecation were a serious problem in Barcelona before 2005; and apparently, the ordinance was controversial.) But others in the city got the last laugh — not only did Barcelona reintroduce the caganer in its 2006 and subsequent mangers, but Barcelona is home to a nearly 20 foot figurine, as seen here.
From the Archives: Pig Toilets: Do not read this if you have eaten pork products recently (or plan to in the near future).
Related: Another reminder that everyone poops, even apples (apparently).