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Pope, SpongeBob face off in cheeky Spanish tradition

Pope Benedict XVI will be competing with cartoon character SpongeBob and football star Leo Messi this year in a centuries-old Christmas tradition in Catalonia, according to the makers of the “caganer” figurines.

The ceramic caganer statuettes show affectionate disrespect for famous personalities from home and abroad.

They have been sold in Spain’s northeastern Catalonia region around Christmas since the 18th century, when they were placed in Nativity scenes in the hope of bringing good luck and a rich harvest.

But they show the personalities with their bottoms bared in the act of defecating.

As in previous years, the personalities with the highest media profiles are generally the best sellers. Last year, US President Barack Obama and France’s first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy were among the top stars.

This year, Barcelona’s Argentine footballer Messi, who won the Golden Boot award as last season’s top scorer in Europe’s domestic leagues, is expected to be big, said Marc Alos, a member of the Alos-Pla family which produces the hand-painted figurines at its factory near Barcelona.

For children, Mr Messi, whose caganer has just been reissued, will be competing with popular television cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants, a newcomer this year.

“Michael Jackson will be also be highly sought after this year,” as will the Pope, who visited Spain this month, said Mr Alos.

Other new figurines include the Dalai Lama, Real Madrid coach José Mourinho and Formula One driver Fernando Alonso in his new Ferrari colours. Catalonia’s elections on November 28 are also likely to boost sales of the top regional politicians, he said.

Mr Alos said the company would be making 15,000 of the figures this year, which are sold for between €6 and €15.

He emphasised the caganers “are not intended to mock the personalities or the office they represent but rather to pay tribute to them”.

The original caganer, which literally translated from Catalan means “the fertiliser”, was a man wearing a red and black hat and peasant costume shown performing his biological functions.

It was believed that his fertile deposits in the soil of the Nativity scene would bring a rich harvest.

But over time, the peasant has been replaced with well-known society figures and personalities from the region, Spain and around the world, in a reminder that all people are equal when it comes to biological functions.

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