The Christmas holiday season in Tenerife is a truly magical affair. Although it doesn’t get going until seemingly the last minute, the Canarios throw themselves whole-heartedly into the spirit of things and the festivities finally culminate on the 6th January.
While the streets sparkle with twinkling lights, poinsettias and festive spirit, the traditional Christmas decoration is the ‘belén’ or nativity scene. In other countries, Christmas trees take centre stage but here most towns will have a belén on view to the general public. I have just come from wending my way across the slopes of ‘the volcano’ and no matter how small a village you pass through you will find a traditional belén.
There are different forms of belénes in Tenerife. One of the most popular is a ‘living nativity’. It involves the local residents dressing up as typical characters and recreating the stable scene. There are also the usual collection of farmyard inhabitants, chickens in complete disorder trying to escape every which way, goats munching on bowls of local produce meant only for display purposes and a donkey keeping an eye on the whole scene. Every year Los Cristianos puts on a spectacular live nativity and as the years have gone by this has become a huge tourist attraction.
The very elaborate static traditional crib scenes are usually made for the Town Halls and churches. Normally all the figures represent the Bible stories such as Jesus’ birth in the stable, the angel’s appearance to the shepherds, the Three Kings being guided by a star. There are some, however, that create whole villages. In these you will find a baker, a butcher, a carpenter and blacksmith, locals drinking and enjoying themselves and, as you would expect the stable with the newborn child and his parents. If you stand and look long enough you will find a few humorous scenes as well. In addition to the traditional religious characters you may find one special character known as El Caganer and to be polite, he is in a squat position doing a poo! His presence symbolises the fertilisation of the land for the coming year but of course he provides much amusement for the children. Originally he was represented as a shepherd or peasant caught in the act but nowadays you can find caganers made in the likeness of famous people.
The whole effect is to remind us that Jesus was born into an environment that was filled with the normal workings of a busy community and none of this came to a standstill simply because a child was born. It all seems to reinforce the humanity of the true Christmas Spirit.
The local newspapers publish details of where to find ‘Belenes’ so keep an eye out!