Find your Favourite Belén in Granada
Look out for the Nativity Scenes – Belenes – in Granada
The streets are adorned with sparkling lights, shop windows vye with each other to offer the best Christmas atmosphere. Christmas trees are being decorated in homes all over the world and here, in Spain, many families will be setting up their cribs and nativity scenes – a belén. For centuries Spanish families have decorated their homes for Christmas by making a nativity scene or Belén (Spanish for Bethlehem). It is only fairly recently that Christmas trees are also included in the festive preparations. It is thought that the nativity scene was an idea of Saint Francis of Assisi. In 1219 during the Crusades, the saint was on a visit to the Holy Land to try to make peace so that christians could visit Bethlehem in safety. Unfortunately, his efforts were not successful. On his return to Assisi, he decided that “any land could be Bethlehem” and designed the first living nativity scene. Of course, not everyone can run to this, hence the custom of scenes made up of beautifully crafted, clay, plaster or even porcelain figures.
Every Christmas, special markets spring up in Spanish towns selling all the necessary figures and elements for creating a Belén. Everything from the Holy Family in the manger to the Three Wise Men on camels, horses or elephants, together with working water wheels, blacksmith’s anvils, streams and waterfalls. Not to mention all the tiny details such as baskets of fruit or bread, household goods and animals. A world in miniature. In Granada you’ll find these fascinating stalls set up in the Plaza Bib-Rambla.
The Christmas tree seems to have made its first appearance in northern Europe. To lighten up the dark winter evenings. Of course, it can also be said to represent the tree of life. The story tells of Saint Boniface, evangelising Europe against the pagan devotion to the sun. Apparently he cut down a deciduous tree, planting in its place a pine tree which as an evergreen symbolizes “the love of God”. This he decorated with apples and candles, apples represent “original sin” and temptations, candles the light of Jesus Christ as “the light of the world”.
When Frutos was a child, his father was a keen belenista and used to dedicate a whole room in the house to a nativity scene with mountains, greenery and all the minute details. Nowadays, for practical reasons and for lack of space, many families opt for a tree over a large nativitiy scene, often placing a crib under the tree. As toy shop owners, we were hard pushed for time when it came to decorating the house but we always have a tree and a crib. Fortunately, the tradition is by no means dead and nativity scenes will be an essential part of Christmas in Spanish homes for many years to come.
No room for a belén and a tree? Why not follow the Belen Route round Granada? Last week, we visited the spectacular Neapolitan belén installed in the Tourist Office in the Palacio de las Niñas Nobles on Calle Carcel Baja, near the cathedral in Granada.
Where are all the belenes? You’ll find them in churches, schools, convents, associations and public buildings. One of the most visited is the one at the Town Hall, a scene from which you can see in the photo below.
The town council edits a list with a detailed plan for locating each belen. Check it out on:- Belén Route Granada
We’ve also visited another amazing nativity scene in the town of Huetor Tajar, about 25 minutes from Granada, on the A92 near Loja. A work of art, depicting the different scenes from the nativity in different, well-known cities all over Spain. Do go and see it if you can.
Photos and post from Susan at www.casatagomago.com