Friday, December 17, 2010

Advent Calendar Grab Bag - Nacimiento - A Nativity Scene from Spain

In the center of Madrid is the Plaza Mayor (the main square).  This is where the Christmas Fair is held every December.  I've seen Christmas Fairs on television shows of Germany, Holland and France, so I know they are common in Europe.  In Madrid, this is the place to go to buy wrapping paper, outdoor light displays, poinsettia plants, Christmas foods and decorations.  They even sell a few Christmas Trees, but they aren't very popular over there.  The biggest decoration by far is the nacimiento or nativity scene. 

Here in the Plaza Mayor there are stalls full of people selling nativity sets, and individual pieces for manger scenes.  If you want just a shepard or a cow, you can wander for hours through all the stalls until you find the perfect one.  They sell figures in all sizes, made of all materials and styles.  This is where we bought our first set, and added to it over many years of Christmases in Madrid.

Our nacimiento has over sixty figures now, but they are only about 1 1/2 inches tall.  We started with the usual Holy Family, a few shepards, animals and the Magi.  Then we added the usual townspeople you see in Spanish nativities.  They represent all ocupations, the potter offering a pot, the weaver offering a piece of cloth, a farmer with a chicken slung over his shoulder.  Then we got carried away, and kept on going.....
click to enlarge
Now we have Don Quixote and his buddy Sancho Panza, Santa Claus, a matador, several Roman centurians, the Pope, a choir of children, a Flamenco dancer, a few medieval musicians (known as tuna in Spain) and the list goes on.  We added all the traditional townspeople representing occupations, including ones from the family tree like a few Guardia Civiles (a nod to my husband's grandfather) and a nurse (my Mom is an RN).  Of course, there is a well, because there is a Spanish Christmas carol about Mary washing Jesus's swaddling clothes at the well outside the stable, and you name it- we've got it!

When my daughter was little, it was a challenge to go to the Plaza Mayor and find something we DIDN'T already have.  We haven't added any new figures in the last five or six years, but then again we really don't need to add any more!  Now you know why sometimes in Spain, a nativity is often called a "Belen", which is the Spanish word for Bethlehem.  It represents the whole town!

There is one typical figure seen in nearly all Spanish nacimientos, even in churches, that I thought was not very appropriate so we didn't have one for years.  Finally, when my daughter was in middle school, she went to the Plaza Mayor with my husband and they came home giggling slyly.  I knew they finally bought "el cagón" who is usually hidden behind the stable.  I won't tell you what he is doing, you'll just have to Google it!  Don't be shocked.  It is just a part of Spanish humor I don't quite understand.  He is supposed to be a symbol of fertility, but I consider it quite naughty.

Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. Fabulous display! Thanks for including the larger pictures so I could see the detail.

    As to your naughty fellow, I'm with you, Heather. Then again, I do still visit the Manneken Pis whenever I'm in Brussels. I suppose it's what one grows up with.

  2. Thanks for sharing your photos and story of your nativity scene. Today, I posted about mine which is from Guatemala over at Janet the Researcher. I like how some cultures include people from the village and not just the shepherds and the magi.

  3. It's strange how National humour varies - spent ages looking for El Cagon in your pics!