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The mysteries of Bélen

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

Belén or Bethlehem as it is known in English is the Christmas nativity scene that is plastered across the high streets of Spain during the Christmas season. In England nativity scenes usually demonstrate the birth of Christ, surrounded by Mary, Joseph, some background angels, the three wise men (known as the 'three magic Kings' in Spain) and a handful of surprised animals. Spain in traditionally flamboyant style takes the nativity scene as a challenge, with epic landscapes of entire miniature villages, rivers and tiny populations working the land. At home, families scatter fake grass, to create beautiful and festive scenes, however, something disturbing hides in the shadows. What is that hiding behind the stable? It can’t be… he…..??

As an Englishman, the first time I encountered the Caganer, I shuffled uncomfortably, feeling I should apologise to Spain for seeing something that couldn’t be there. When I reported my hallucination to a Spanish friend, after he had finished laughing in my English face, he explained the tradition of hiding a small defecating character amongst the beautiful nativity scene. This tradition is most popular in Catalonia but can be found all across Spain and the world. For me it represents something greater than just a man that was ‘caught short’ it demonstrates that most special Spanish trait, the Spanish sense of humour. I asked my friend “you’re religious, is this not offensive?” and his response was simple “don’t be so English, remember to laugh!”

You can buy Caganer’s in all shapes and forms to bring life and laughter to your nativity scene here

In the spirit of Christmas and the Spanish, remember to laugh!

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