Visit any Catalan home at Christmas and you may well find yourself lost as you gaze into the nativity scene or Belén.
Joseph and Mary will be in pride of place around the manger next to baby Jesus, the three Kings will likely be in attendance too, along with a group of shepherds and a set of traditional farmyard animals.
But look closer and you will spot a figure squatting with his or her pants down, bare bottom raised over a little brown pile of poo – glance up at the face and chances are it’s a face you recognise.
This is el caganer, which can be roughly translated as ‘the crapper’, and believe it or not they’ve become big business for artisans in the northeastern region.
Traditional caganers are made from clay, fired in a kiln and then hand-painted. The classic figurines depict a pipe-smoking shepherd with a red Barretina hat, white shirt and black trousers, traditional wear in rural Catalonia back in the day.
When exactly they started forming part of the nativity scenes that decorate many homes in Catalonia is unknown.
But what historians do agree with is that the defecating figure perched behind Mary and Joseph is said to symbolise fertilisation, as well as bringing luck and prosperity for the year ahead.
That seems to have worked as Catalonia’s Christmas crappers are sticking around for good and making a name for themselves abroad.
We are not amused! Not even the Queen is taboo. Photo: AFP
Some families like to use the same figure year after year, often a character that has been passed down through the generations, and quite likely the traditional Catalan figure of a young peasant.
But as the caganer has evolved into a huge industry, all sorts are now produced, both in design and material.
There is a growing trend to purchase a new figure each year – a movements that is proving profitable for a handful of artisans who produce the figures each year.
Modern crappers represent public figures of the moment, from politicians to sporting heroes.
The real presidental race (to the toilet) between Trump and Biden. Photo: Lluis Gené/AFP
Cartoon characters, literary figures, film icons can all be found on the shelves of stalls selling caganers.
No-one is above the cheeky satire that sees celebrities bare their bottoms and perform a call of nature from the late George Michael to Pope Francis.
Politicians are often favourites. Not surprisingly, the Donald Trump figure has been a best-seller for the last few years but was beaten at the top of the ‘crapping charts’ last Christmas by Spain’s chief pandemic spokesperson Fernando Simón.
New highly-awaited figures this year include Spanish politicians Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the outspoken president of Madrid, and Pere Aragonès, the regional leader of Catalonia.
UK readers may want to buy a caganer of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to perhaps draw a parallel between his words and his toilet habits.
Climate activist Greta Thunberg will also be ‘fertilising’ nativity scenes with her own carbon-free emissions, along with Spanish singer Rosalía and her very practical outfit.
Although some devout Christians may question if this tradition is inappropriate, it’s very much here to stay.
As for whether it’s more of an honour or a disgrace to be turned into caganer, it’s fair to say that it’s more light-hearted fun than mockery.
If anything, it’s proof that you’ve made it into the ‘poo-blic’ eye.