Towards the end of October I was in Las Americas and noticed they had started to build a crib. It was the first sign that Christmas was around the corner.
In Tenerife as well as the tree a traditional Christmas decoration is the ‘belén’ or nativity scene and it is common for people to have one in their homes. I remember as a kid we had one in the hall and those times spent with the family putting it together are magical.
Whether you want a simple or elaborate belén there is a lot of Christmas paraphernalia on sale in the shops, so you have no excuse for not becoming a true Canario even for a short time. 🙂
The word ‘belén’ means Bethlehem, and Tenerife Christmas scenes often includes the entire town of Bethlehem. Of course, the most important part is the Virgin Mary, the baby, Joseph, the ox and the ass and maybe an angel and a shepherd, but it is also common to see farmers ploughing their fields and townsfolk lingering for a chat. As well as the traditional characters and popular local scenes, one character is paramount. He is known as “el caganer”. He is a figure in a squat position and he symbolises the fertilisation of the land for the coming year but he also provides much amusement. It is part of the fun to see if you can spot him as he is always placed somewhere discrete and far from the baby Jesus.
In addition to the home decoration, each town and village has its own Belen. These can be found outside town halls, in town plazas and inside churches and part of the tradition is visiting them. Some are pretty impressive and whether you are into the whole Christian Christmas thing or not, I highly recommend seeing a few. They will be on display until well into January, normally the weekend after Reyes, the 6th.
If you want a true Canarian Christmas, start getting ready now as putting out the belén goes hand-in-hand with putting up the Christmas tree when preparing for the holidays.