Sunday, December 21, 2008

Feliz Navidad

It’s Christmas in Spain, and it is an entirely Christian celebration. This is not the Happy Holidays of America, but rather a celebration of joy that ignites the entire city. Most Córdobans will tell you that they are not very religious. But babies are always properly baptized, children attend to their Catechisms and First Communions are huge family celebrations. Where in America, Christmas has become largely secular, with street and store decorations centering around Santa Claus, the Christmas Tree and good old fashion greed; in Spain, it is all about the birth of Christ. Homes hang out banners of Baby Jesus and stores proudly display Nacimientos (Nativities) or Beléns (Bethlehem Towns) which elaborately depict Bethlehem and the entire Christmas story from the Annunciation, to Mary and Joseph´s flight to Egypt. In one Belén, one of the Reyes Mago (Wise Men) is shown arriving on an elephant. The Wise Men are very important in Spain, for it is the Magi that bring the gifts on January 5 (Twelfth Night). Alas, Spain has not entirely escaped greed either. In another Belén, farmers work in fields, while shopkeeper and artisan go about their daily business, as Mary and Joseph are turned away from the inn. Shepherds and their flocks converge on the stable to see the Baby Jesus. Later, Romans are shown carrying out Herod´s order, as mothers plead for their children. Another interpretation shows both Spain and the Americas, complete with an Atlantic Ocean and a Mary and Joseph looking for lodgings in America. And yet another Belén includes a rising and a setting sun, with heavens filled with stars as elaborate angels proclaim the Holy Birth.

These Nacimientos and Beléns began appearing a couple of weeks ago, and more are showing up each day as Christmas approaches. Crowds fill the plazas in the evenings to “ohh and ahh” over the latest Belén. Some of these are life size, others are miniature, and it is interesting to see the each interpretation. I understand that the Belén has origins in Italy, but the Beléns that we have seen have a distinctly Spanish feel to them. The newspaper published a listing of where the coolest displays could be found (although they did not promise that all their information was correct, so sometimes we find ourselves on a “wild Belén chase.”) You can see pictures at:

This afternoon we attended a children’s program of Villancicos, which are Spanish Christmas Songs traditionally sung by children, telling the story of Jesus. The songs are mostly about walking to Bethlehem, or about the Wise Men´s journey, or about the shepherds coming to see the Baby Jesus. There is nothing of the seriousness and reverence that you hear in most of our traditional Christmas carols; these are songs meant to entertain children. The program was precious and eagerly attended by the children. Not entirely different than what you might see in a Christmas pageant at your church. But quite unusual to the American perspective as this was at the local Botanical Garden. For parts of the program, the children were up on the stage acting out Nativity stories or marching about the room on their way to Bethlehem. The funniest part was when they had the wise men coming to visit. Three of the children, two of whom were little girls, were outfitted with bushy black beards. (We´d post one or two of the songs on this blog, but don´t want to run afoul of any copyright laws. If you´re interested in hearing a song, contact us by e-mail.)

We had both thought that Christmas would be anti-climatic without the cookie party, and all the trimmings of Christmas. But rather, the enthusiasm in the streets spreads into the homes, and we are not feeling any lack. In Spain, this is Christmas, everyone is invited to the party. It is entirely wonderful.

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