All towns, cities, towns and many private homes and businesses in southern Spain have set up a nativity scene for Christmas, but some are more imaginative than others.
The setting up of a nativity scene, or a Belén (in Spanish for Bethlehem), is one of the many traditions steeped in Christian culture since at least the mid-thirteenth century. During the Christmas season, a nativity scene is on display in every town and village in Spain. In recent years, attempts have been made to install unusual and unique Belenes, in order to create more interest and attract more tourists.
Belén 1. Artistic
The term “manger” is used for any representation of the birth of Jesus in art. In Malaga there is a Belén who is a collector’s dream. In 2009, the owner of the Museo de Vidrio de Malaga, Gonzalo Fernández-Prieto, installed a Belén with porcelain figurines of Lladró. The Lladró factory is known for producing unique religious figures depicting Mary, Joseph and the Child Jesus, as well as the Three Kings, angels and many assorted animals. Most of Lladró’s coins are no longer made, making them even more valuable to collectors. The hundred pieces of Lladró from the collection of the private museum of Fernández-Prieto make up different scenes. Even the Cenachero (fish seller) of Lladró, a typical and traditional figure of Malaga, is part of the nativity scene.
Belén 2. Underwater
On the Costa del Sol, Christmas also reaches the bottom of the ocean. This particularity was made possible in Benalmádena thanks to Sea Life. In this local aquarium and research center, you can find a traditional nativity scene in a unique environment. The nursery is underwater and accompanied by resident sharks and other extraordinary creatures such as seahorses and rays.
Belén 3. The sweetest
This Belén is located in one of the sweetest places, literally. The town of Rute, in the province of Cordoba, is known for its production of anise and chocolate by the family business Galleros Artesanos. Unsurprisingly, the local crib there is made of chocolate.
It took seven chocolatiers working eight hours a day, for four months, to make it happen. This year’s edition covers 66 square meters and contains over 1,400 kg of white and dark chocolate. There are 170 chocolate figurines accompanied by some marzipan figurines.
Rute’s Belén is considered the largest chocolate crib in Spain.
Belén 4. Scandalous
Many years ago it was an English tradition to prepare tarts with a mixture of minced meat, sweetened with spices and fruit, to represent the gifts of the wise.
This mixture was wrapped in a puff pastry in the shape of a crib. In Andalusia, there doesn’t seem to be anything like it. However, this year a baker from Seville set up a baked, but also erotic crib. The pastry shop La Verguería, decided to decorate its window with the crib made up of waffles in the shape of genitals.
This unusual crib not only sparked controversy in Seville, but also caused serious problems for bakers. A court in Seville has apparently opened an investigation to determine whether the pastry shop has committed a crime against religious feelings.
Belén 5. Plasticine
In the neighboring region of Extremadura, there is a monumental crib made of plasticine. For the third time, Cáceres is exhibiting 220 handmade figurines from around 40 kilograms of plasticine. The figures are supported by an inner metal frame. The Belén occupies 40 square meters and in addition to the traditional nursery, it depicts the daily routines of the local people.
Belén 6. Living Nativity
Arcos de la Frontera, in the province of Cadiz, is known as the Andalusian pioneer of the Belén Viviente (living nativity scene). In December, the historic Plaza del Cabildo is decorated with palm leaves and transformed into a theater.
Hundreds of people flock to watch local residents play their part. About thirty different scenes retracing the story of the Nativity, from the Visitation to the Birth are staged. The atmosphere of the city of Bethlehem is created by handmade costumes and staging. However, this year, due to the Covid situation, Arcos de la Frontera as well as the nearby town of Medina Sidonia (which also hosts live performances), have decided to postpone the celebration of the living nativity scene until next year. .
Belén 7. Life size
For those visiting the Christmas lights in the Galician city of Vigo, they might come across the small town of Viveiro, the capital of the A Mariña Occidental region.
One of the largest nativity scenes in the country is installed there, around the Church of Santa María. Being surrounded by life-size statues, it’s easy to lose direction in time and find yourself traveling back in time.
The Belén serves as an open-air ethnographic museum where the life of the local population is represented by technological installations. Surprisingly, he is not well known outside of Galicia.