Belen is a Spanish tradition centered exclusively on the birth and the Nativity scene, of Jesus Christ.  

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By Pablo

What are the Spanih traditions on Christmas?

Long before the Christmas tree became a common sight in Spain, tradition centered exclusively on the Nacimiento or Nativity scene, also known as a Belén.  The emphasis on Christmas Eve is still, in many cases, on family and the commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ while the Three Kings arrive in Spanish cities with great pomp, as witnessed by thousands of children and grown-ups watching any of the parades, large and small, in cities and villages on the night of the 5th of January.  The Kings are in charge of depositing presents – or, in the case of naughty children, (candy) coal – in children’s shoes.  However, nowadays, both the Christmas tree and the Belén cohabit comfortably; decorated trees are visible in many windows and doorways, while the city’s illuminations have lately included large wire trees in many of the main squares that, although they look a bit odd in the daytime, light up impressively at nightfall. Another Spanish tradition is to eat 12 grapes at the last 12 seconds before the new year.

The Spanish Belen and the tree

When I was a child growing up in my family, we always put up both a tree and the Nativity.  A dresser in the hallway was cleared off and moss was laid down to make a field.  The stable was set up in one corner, moss-padded bricks formed a hill opposite.  From here, the Kings would wend their way towards the stable.  The requisite shepherds with their wooly sheep dotted the landscape.  The Baby’s wooden crib was stuffed with itchy-looking hay and our tradition included placing him into this uninviting bed when we came home from Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

spanish belen

“Lots of huge belenes are usually seen in the cities of Spain on Christmas times

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