Spain’s nativity scenes: a holiday highlight

The Christmas season in Spain is a time for celebration, gifts and many traditions like the Three Kings parades, eating grapes at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, and braving the crowds for last minute holiday shopping. Streets at this time of year are bustling and sparkling with color and light. Along with the churros con chocolate, one of main attractions in most towns and cities is the belen – an intricate nativity scene that uses figurines, miniature houses, living plants, and sometimes even living actors.

A long and treasured tradition

The tradition of creating nativity scenes in Spain to commemorate the birth of Jesus is thought to be about seven centuries old. Most towns and villages nowadays install a nativity scene of baby Jesus in the manger in their main square, and smaller versions are present in many homes.

However, what started as simple scenes have evolved spectacularly, and towns now include moving pieces and special effects to amaze passers-by, with many Spaniards making a special family trip to see each year’s unique display. Normally all the figures are made by hand using traditional methods, and represent the typical stories from the Bible such as Jesus’ birth in the manger, the angel’s appearance before the shepherds, and the Three Kings being guided by a star to Bethlehem.

In bigger cities such as Barcelona and Madrid, these nativity scenes are not created for a tabletop – they take time to walk around and marvel at the labor and care that went into each and every detail. Truly a sight to behold!

Belen Escorial

Nativity scenes come alive

Some towns in Spain have taken special pride in their nativity scenes, and have literally brought them to life. In these cases, the scene is life-sized and local inhabitants of the town dress up as the biblical characters. One of the most famous can be found in the town of Buitrago (Madrid), which has enacted a famous living nativity scene featuring around 200 actors who play the roles of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in the manger, the shepherds, and the Three Wise Men, amongst others. Another is the one in Cabezón de Pisuerga (Castile-León), which takes you back in time by including a depiction of traditional crafts: carpenters, blacksmiths, washer women and millers. The nativity scene in Bàscara (Girona) builds caves, vegetation, and drinking fountains in a tradition held since 1973. Over 300 actors transform the town into a recreation of the Palestine that existed over 2000 years ago. Another recommendable event is the religious mystery play of the Three Kings in Sangüesa (Navarre). It takes place each year on January 6, and is more than just a living nativity scene – it is an open-air theater portraying the arrival of the Three Kings to worship the baby Jesus.

Belen Cabezon

Belen Buitrago

Bascara Belen

Touring Spain during the holiday season

These are just a few examples of nativity scenes that are worth a special visit, but nearly every town and village will have its own version – living or otherwise – constructed by local artists and craftsmen. The details will amaze your group! Don’t pass up this unforgettable detail on your winter tour in Spain. Contact us today!


Katharina Giesler

View more posts from this author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.