Beléns, or a nativity scenes, depicting the stable where Jesus was born, are a staple of almost all Spanish homes at Christmas time.
But towns and villages, and even businesses throughout the country lay on much larger, more complex Beléns, often showing local life and scenes from the area.
Here in Lanzarote, you’ll find them in almost every town and village, usually in the town’s plaza or near the church or a municipal building. They range from small and simple, for example in Puerto del Carmen, to grand and complex, for example in Yaiza and Tias. Tinajo is particularly unusual in that it’s life sized!
All Beléns have a stable or cave, featuring Joseph, Mary and an empty crypt. The baby Jesus is always added on Christmas Morning, and models of the three Kings will be added on the 5th January, usually riding camels.
The Man Having A Poo!
There will also be a Caganer somewhere. This is basically a man, usually depicted as a peasant, with his trousers down, and pooing. He’s generally well hidden within the Belén, and kids love trying to spot him.
The tradition is Catalan and dates back to the 18th century. It’s thought that it originally came about to symbolise fertilising the earth, and soon became an essential part of every Belén, and was believed to bring good luck and good harvests for the coming year.
Many have working water or windmills and various moving parts.
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Around the stable, you’ll generally find fabulous models depicting the area, showing buildings familiar to you, fishing harbours, farms with workers and animals in them, vineyards and more. Each tells a story of life in the area local to it, and great care and attention to detail is paid to the designs, and there is fierce competition to create the year’s best Beléns.
Here’s a video we shot of the Beléns at Christmas 2020, to give you a feel for them:
Tour Them Or Just Find them
Many locals and residents do a day long tour of all the Beléns, making sure they visit as many as possible. Others simply go and find one when they are in a town or village for another reason, and randomly visit a few.
It’s worth making sure you visit some at night, as all have lighting that changes the whole look of the nativity scene.
The Top Five
It’s hard to do this, because each is unique and beautiful, but if we could only visit five, these are the ones we’d pick, in no particular order:
- Yaiza – Always stunning to look at
- Tinajo – For those life sized figures
- Haria – Charming depiction of the valley
- Arrecife – Huge, and under cover from the sun
- Tias – Because it has the old harbour in Puerto del Carmen