A Caganer is a traditional part of Christmas nativity scenes in certain parts of Europe. The caganer is a figurine depicted in the act of defecation.
It is most popular and widespread in Catalonia and neighbouring areas with Catalan culture such as Andorra, Valencia, Northern Catalonia (in southern France) and the Balearic Islands, but can also be found in other areas of Spain, Portugal and southern Italy.
From the Guiness Book of World Records: The world's largest caganer, 19 foot tall, at the Maremagnum Mall in Barcelona, Spain.
This tradition is highly popular and beloved among the population, and tolerated by the local Catholic church.
The exact origin of the caganer is unknown. It is believed to have entered the nativity scene by the late 17th- or early 18th-century, during the Baroque period. An Iberian votive deposit was found near Tornabous in the Urgell depicting a holy Iberian warrior defecating on his falcata. Some regard this image as an early proto-caganer, which would place the origin of this tradition far earlier than previously thought.
The caganer is a particular and highly popular feature of modern Catalan nativity scenes. Possible reasons for placing a figure representing a person in the act of defecating in a scene which is widely considered holy include tradition, humor, a fun spectacle for children. Accompanying Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the shepherds and the 3 wise men, the caganer is often tucked away in a corner of the model. A tradition in the Catalan Countries is to have children find the hidden figure.
The caganer was the most mischievous and out-of-place character of the pessebre's [otherwise] idyllic landscape; he was the "Other", with everything that entails, and as the "Other", was accepted, in a liberal vein, as long as he did not aim to occupy the foreground. The caganer represented the spoilsport that we all have inside of us, and that's why it is not surprising that it was the most beloved figure among the children and, above all, the adolescents, who were already beginning to feel a bit like outsiders to the family celebration.
According to noted ethnographer Joan Amades, the caganer was a popular figure in nativity scenes in the 19th century, because people believed that his deposit of feces symbolically fertilized the ground of the nativity scene, which ensured a good harvest the following year. So the caganer was and still is believed to be a good luck charm. To this day, people living in the Catalonian region of Europe give each other small caganer figurines as good luck charms and house warming gifts.
To cater to this custom, manufacturers have produced a variety of modern caganer figures that resemble celebrities, movie stars, atheletes and politicians. The Caganer represents the equality of all people: regardless of status, race, or gender, everyone defecates.
For more strange christmas traditions, check out this site.