Christmas is nearly upon us and once again in England there’s the usual feverish rush to purchase firs and spruces or the fake variety – and let’s not forget fairy lights, decorations, cards, wrapping paper and oodles of food and gifts. If Black Fridays in the UK are anything to go by the ugly face of consumerism in the lead up to the festivities has reached an all time low. In London, streets were adorned with twinkling lights and stores groaning with greeting cards and special festive departments long before Majorcans gave a passing thought to the forthcoming celebrations. And why on earth would they in early November?
So just a week ago the understated and delicate Palma lights were finally switched on, not by an X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent judge or act, and nor were there hysterical crowd scenes. The local mayor, Mateu Isern, strode jovially onto the balcony of the town hall to flick the switch and there were cheers and enthusiastic clapping from the appreciative and well-behaved crowds. Now the Christmas markets have opened on the beautiful Las Ramblas and majestic Plaça Mayor in Palma and the main attraction is not so much potential gifts as figurines to adorn the belén, the traditional nativity scene that most homes display. There are literally hundreds to choose from with of course baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, shepherds and kings topping the list.
El Corte Inglés, the main department store in the capital, has just unveiled a dramatic 70m² belén designed by José Luis Mayo which is proving a hit and locals continue to make their annual pilgrimage to view Palma council’s gigantic under-lit nativity scene. This masterpiece of design, set behind glass and occupying an entire room, depicts scenes of Majorcan rural life in minute detail with hundreds of figurines and wonderfully imaginative mountain scenery.
The impish caganer meaning ‘the crapper’, is the highlight of every belén and is inevitably portrayed wearing a red cap and squatting with his trousers half-mast. This defecating cheeky chap is purely a Catalan tradition and dates back to the 18th century. In fact el caganer is so loved in parts of Spain that it has spawned a tongue-in-cheek mini industry of figurines sporting the same pose but with the faces of politicians, footballers, celebrities and Royals superimposed.
El Caganer, the crapper, is often the focal point of many a Spanish nativity scene
While many schools in the UK are phasing out the traditional nativity play or at least removing the religious element in order not to offend religious sensibilities, it’s business as usual for beléns and nativity plays here. Simple traditions will always remain at the heart of the festive season in Spain with family get-togethers and sharing good food being the main priority. thankfully for now over-commercialisation of Christmas is yet to spoil the fun. Let’s hope it never will.
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