If you’re in Spain at Christmas time, you’ll notice that pretty much every town and village has its own unique Belen, or Nativity Scene. ‘Belen’ means Bethlehem, and the Belens in Spain are much more than a stable with Mary, Joseph and Jesus surrounded by animals. The Spanish Belen is a representation of life as it was lived in Bethlehem at the time of the Nativity, with many different scenes of daily life, as well as the usual things we expect, like the Three Kings, the Angel appearing to the shepherds, and the flight from Bethlehem when Herod ordered the slaughter of the Holy Innocents.
Our own Belen in Algorfa was inaugurated by the Mayor, Manuel Ros Rodes and the parish priest on the afternoon of Sunday 18 December, accompanied by a live version of the Nativity story and Spanish and English carols led by local choir, the Enthusiasticals. Lo Crispin Residents and Cultural Association supplied the mince pies, and a great time was had by all.
It was wonderful to see all the nationalities living in Algorfa joining together to celebrate the Christmas Story, and as more than one person remarked, it made a refreshing change to consider the true meaning of the season and take a break from the rampant consumerism and hustle and bustle and enjoy the retelling of the Nativity in the Spanish sun, with friends and neighbours.
This isn’t the first time Algorfa has performed a live Nativity. I remember back in 2012, when the prize in the ‘You Couldn’t Make It Up’ category went to the goats who were part of the live Nativity production. They stole the show by staging their own Nativity, aimed at a different kind of production – or maybe that should be reproduction! Luckily the embarrassed owners of billy and nanny managed to separate the prospective parents before too many sensibilities were offended.
Baby Jesus was ‘born’ near the church, there being a distinct lack of stables and mangers in the Plaza España. There was no messing about with dolls – this was a real live baby, if a little on the large side for a newborn. Elf and Safety is on permanent holiday in Spain, which is one of the many reasons we love living here. The whole production was accompanied by narration of the story, music and singing, and it was a great warm up for the main event, the opening of the Belen.
I may be biased, but I believe this year’s offering is the best I’ve seen in all our 15 Christmases in Algorfa. The models were bigger and better than ever, and ‘El Caganer,‘ the defecating shepherd, was easier to spot than usual – for me, at any rate. Originating in Catalunya in the 18th century, the figure is generally believed to be representative of the circle of life, naturally fertilising the ground to encourage new growth.
Algorfa’s caganer is more traditional than in some places. Here, it is just any old common or garden shepherd, but some Belens boast caganers who look decidedly like one of the local politicians. You can even get caganers with the faces of football players, and even English and Spanish royalty. I love to look for him in our own Belen, but I love it even more when I hear the squeals of delight from the village children which herald the discovery of the shepherd and his download.
If you haven’t yet been to see Algorfa’s Belen, there’s still time, as it will be open until Three Kings Day on 6 January. And if you’ve already seen it, why not go again? I’ve been around three times this year, and each time I’ve spotted something new. Yesterday it was a goat on top of a hill to the right of the entrance. Who knows what more discoveries I may make over the next week or so?