Visiting “Belenes Navideños” in Granada (Spain)

 

san-francisco

Yes, I know the title is puzzling, but there really is no exact translation for the Spanish concept of Belenes Navideños. “Christmas Bethlehems” (the literal translation) just doesn’t sound right somehow. However the name is usually shortened just to belenes, with a small ‘B’, and this is the name given to beautiful displays of whole miniature Bethlehem village scenes, with of course the main focus being the brightly lit little stable where figures of Mary and Joseph gaze at the Christ Child lying in the manger. What we would call ‘a crib’ in English (a nacimiento in Spanish) containing just the main figures of the Holy Family (perhaps including an angel or a shepherd or two) also fill odd shop windows and squares, but it is the whole Christmas story depicted in the belenes that take the limelight.

calle-sevila-21Some of them are real works of art, full of amazing details that fascinate young and old onlookers alike, having required hours of meticulous and dedicated skill to set up beforehand, and can be found in every town and city in Spain. Granada boasts some of the country’s best displays, and it is a joyful outing every year during the Advent and Christmas period for families to muffle up against the cold (for the temperatures in Granada after dark often drop to below zero) and walk round the gaily decorated city centre, with piped carol music floating out from loudspeakers, while visiting “belenes”. These Christmas festivities only come to an end on the day after the great Feast of the Epiphany.

1beln3

It is really quite surprising what you can find in the Bethlehem scenes; some of the figures sit weaving, pealing beans; others will be energetically chopping wood, or pounding grain to make bread. Or you might just see two neighbours having a good old chinwag by the village well. I remember seeing one where a woman had her young son sprawled over her legs whilst she was giving him a good spanking on his bared backside; I wondered what mischief the little boy must have got up to to deserve such punishment!

taken with my smart phone

taken with my smart phone

There is usually quite a lot going on in the outskirts of the Bethlehem scene too. Some will show the wicked Herod dripping gold and surrounded by luxuries, while feasting in his mansion as dancing girls sway in erotic postures for his entertainment! Then suddenly, after watching all the ordinary village events, you might be reminded that something very special just might have happened in the little town of Bethlehem somewhere, by noticing strong camels being fitted out for their coming journey with the Magi (known as los reyes magos in Spain)… though presumably this is meant to be happening way beyond the frontiers of Bethlehem.

taken with my smart phone

taken with my smart phone

If the belen happens to be displayed in a long passage somewhere, like one I visited set round an inner courtyard, you have to walk all the way round watching the Bethlehem villagers going about their business in total oblivion of the miraculous event of that holy night in their midst, before you come to the humble stable where you will find the Holy Family in simple poverty. This is where some families will stop and make the sign of the cross, and some mothers urge their children to say a little prayer or blow a kiss to the Holy Baby Jesus lying in His manger.

taken with my smart phone

taken with my smart phone

But why not show just the crib? What can be the meaning of showing a whole town going about its mundane occupations while the Son of God lies there in obscurity? I have often pondered that great mystery, because that must have been exactly the way it really happened. The shepherds would have gone into the town to alert the townsfolk of the wondrous news the angels had given them… But how many will have listened? How many will have believed them and gone to see for themselves the Holy Babe in such a humble dwelling? Not many I think. And the same happens in our own day and age; only a few will go to look for Him, to kneel and offer Him their lives in loving obedience and trust. Nothing has changed in 2000 years.

It is very moving that in this secular world, these old traditions and customs still persist. They are a living proof of the ancient Christian heritage of Spain, and indeed of all Europe. We must pray and plead with the Holy Family to help us be faithful Catholics and that these traditions will always remain with us to remind us that Our Blessed Lord was born among us in Bethlehem.

 

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21 Responses to Visiting “Belenes Navideños” in Granada (Spain)

  1. johnhenrycn says:

    Probably the best thing I will read this Advent season, and something composed entirely from scratch rather than a mere link. Thank you very much, Kathleen, for all of your time and effort.

    Like

  2. GC says:

    Let me second that, JH. Beautiful. Katheen, those Belennes are exquisitely designed and made.

    Like

  3. toadspittle says:

    http://elguardaposts.com/2014/12/18/el-caganer-the-nativity-pooper/

    Strangely, they don’t seem to have got round to Pope Francis yet.

    Like

  4. kathleen says:

    @ JH & GC

    Muchas gracias! 😉 That was really kind of you.

    @ Toad

    I just knew you’d come up with this one; I was waiting for it! For what it’s worth, I haven’t seen one of those for a long long time in this area (thank goodness).

    Like

  5. toadspittle says:

    I think they’re originally Catalan, Kathleen. A Godless lot. We don’t have one in Santo Tomas, either( I think)

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  6. GC says:

    Incorrigible toads. Scarcely have to see a tone before desiring to lower it.

    Actually, from what we’ve been seeing of the sheer rusticity of Moratinos on here and certain blogs, it would itself make a good real-life belen navideño with only minimal changes required, if any. All you would need to add is one of Rabit’s donkeys, somebody’s ox and two costumed opposite-sexed pilgrims, putting them all together in the courtyard of Toad’s inn with a suggestion of winter fodder and cela!. (Getting a virgin might be tricky, though.)

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  7. GC says:

    Or even Voilà.

    Like

  8. kathleen says:

    “Scarcely have to see a tone before desiring to lower it.” (Referring to Toad’s link.)

    Wise words from GC about Toad. True ones too.

    Why do you do this Toad? It is such a shame.

    Like

  9. johnhenrycn says:

    Toad is a troubled man. He is searching for the meaning of life, but he should strive instead – and I think he does so without knowing it – to give meaning to life.

    As I grow older, the less in charge, the less in control I am of my life; and thus, the more use God can make of it and of me.
    ___

    Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away.
    So he said to his mother, “I am running away.”
    “If you run away,” said his mother, “I will run after you.
    For you are my little bunny.”

    “If you run after me,” said the little bunny,
    “I will become a fish in a stream
    and I will swim away from you.”

    “If you become a fish in a stream,” said his mother,
    “I will become a fisherman and I will fish for you.”

    “If you become a fisherman,” said the little bunny,
    “I will become a bird and I will fly away from you.”

    “If you become a bird and fly away from me,”
    said his mother, “I will be the tree you come home to.”

    ___
    No matter which path, stream or wind we choose, God will find us, and we are so blessed.

    Like

  10. reinkat says:

    I loved learning about a custom that I had not known of. The closest thing to this around here is a community nativity/creche display–at a Mormon church. 🙂

    Like

  11. toadspittle says:

    “As I grow older, the less in charge, the less in control I am of my life;”
    I think, JH – the truth is that, as we age, we grow to realise realise how little in charge of our lives we have ever been, and how much of a random raffle it all is.
    You call me “troubled.” Very likely.
    People who don’t find life troubling are deluding themselves.
    And, yes, I believe existentially that we do impose on life whatever meaning it “requires,” be it art, religion, God or stamp collecting. And no, it’s not a very Christian concept, opposed to the notion that God imposes meaning on our lives.
    Serendipitously (!) I found a quote by Montaigne, I made a note of years ago and had forgotten:
    “It is a sign of failing powers, or of weariness, when the mind is content.”
    I believe that. You probably don’t.

    Anyway, as you are fond of verse:
    Oh see the happy idiot
    He doesn’t give am damn
    I wish I were an idiot
    But then, perhaps I am.

    However, I see a great many people far more troubled than myself. On CP&S, too.
    I was simply born fortunate, it seems.

    Well, K and GC – Toad is an unrepentant, 73-year old, small, naughty boy. These antics are what he’d like to have got up to when he was 11, at a very repressive “trad,” Catholic school. Now he can! And nobody minds! (well, not much.)
    And, thanks, to CP&S, I have come to several conclusions regarding life. Which might be final ones. I don’t know.

    I’m reminded of the late C. Hitchens* – who, while epatering the religious bourgeois, was incredulously asked, “Is nothing sacred?”
    “No.” said Hitch.

    *Awful man.

    Like

  12. kathleen says:

    A very touching comment from you JH.

    “No matter which path, stream or wind we choose, God will find us, and we are so blessed.”

    So true. The ‘Hound of Heaven’ will never give up on any of us – and if He will not, we should not give up hoping for his (Toad’s) ‘conversion’ either. 😉 Surely one day Toad will also come to hear words like those that complete Francis Thompson’s magnificent poem:

    ‘Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
    I am He Whom thou seekest!
    Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.’

    Like

  13. Adrian Meades (at this festive time of year) says:

    “As I grow older, the less in charge, the less in control I am of my life”
    Yes Toad, that does become much more apparent, the more we understand the workings of our minds.

    Like

  14. toadspittle says:

    “As I grow older, the less in charge, the less in control I am of my life”
    That is the very sagacious HJ speaking, Adrian, but I’m in full agreement as usual.
    And I believe it goes further – and deeper – in a contrary sort of way.
    What we are doing, through the daily advances of science, is discovering how vast is our ignorance.
    This is worth knowing.
    It’s as if we walk through a door and find ourselves in a room with two doors. We choose one, and find ourselves in a room with four doors. And so on.
    I put a great Montaigne quote on here yesterday (21st.)
    Here’s another which says it all – or at least a great deal – for me.
    “Let various opinions be put before the student: He will choose between them if he can – if not, he will remain in doubt. Only fools are certain and immovable.”

    (Pompous old twit, Toad.)

    Like

  15. Tom Fisher says:

    Only fools are certain and immovable

    I agree, most of us, including Toad, experience more doubt than we ever admit to. It’s a strange of irony of human nature that every congregation consists of a group of doubters drawing strength from the certainty that they infer the other congregants to have.

    Like

  16. toadspittle says:

    …Which is where the idea of “Churches” comes in. Reassurance.
    Quite right, (in my opinion) Tom. I doubt that you are wrong.
    “If we don’t all hang together, we’ll all hang separately.”

    Like

  17. toadspittle says:

    Overheard in a bar:
    Q: “Why was there no room at the inn?”
    A: “Because it was Christmas, of course!”

    Like

  18. Tom Fisher says:

    …Which is where the idea of “Churches” comes in. Reassurance.
    Quite right, (in my opinion) Tom. I doubt that you are wrong.
    “If we don’t all hang together, we’ll all hang separately.”

    Ah yes. Don’t trust everyone who lends you support, it may the kind of support that a rope lends to a hanged man

    Like

  19. Tom Fisher says:

    Overheard in a bar:
    Q: “Why was there no room at the inn?”
    A: “Because it was Christmas, of course!

    Not overheard in a bar:

    Q: “Why was the Amish girl excommunicated?”
    A: “Too Mennonite”

    Like

  20. kathleen says:

    Tom Fisher @ 6:29 (directed towards Toad):

    “It’s a strange of irony of human nature that every congregation consists of a group of doubters drawing strength from the certainty that they infer the other congregants to have.”

    That’s clever! 😉

    And getting back to the subject of the post above… I was handed a leaflet when coming out of Holy Mass yesterday; it was a map and description of the 60 public belenes navideños to be seen in the city. I went to see a couple more of these mini masterpieces before rushing home to cook lunch. Impossible to find the time to visit any more than a fraction of all 60 during the Christmas period!!! And this 60 does not include the belenes that are not public ones, like those in shops, schools, many homes, etc.

    That is an amazing number, not only because of the enormous amount of work that goes in to creating them, but also 60 in a city that is only 17th in size of all Spanish cities (with a 2014 count of 240.000 inhabitants) just goes to show how much a part of Spanish culture these imaginative models of the little town of Bethlehem really are. The number of belenes in the bigger cities must run into the hundreds!

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  21. toadspittle says:

    Moratinos has a population of 20, and we have two Belenes on public display – one in the church and one in what we fondly call the Plaza Mayor.

    Like

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