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Christmas traditions and celebrations in Andalusia

It is almost here, it is actually round the corner. We are all getting excited and feeling the joy of the forthcoming arrival of… Christmas time in Andalusia!

People’s diaries in Andalusia are already filling at a vertiginous pace. All sorts of Christmas gatherings are being organized, around food of course, by all the possible groups in which Andalusians exercise their busy social life.

Almonds have been harvested in the Alpujarras and are already in the factories that make the famous Christmas Sweets in the town of Estepa.  There, the streets smell of cinammon and tradition.

Chestnuts have also been picked in the mountains and are being roasted and sold in paper cones by street vendors throughout Andalusia.

And the most amazing nativity scenes are being set in people’s homes…

Andalusians take their nativity scenes or “Belénes” very seriously. They enjoy making them more and more complete every year so some of them are like those paintings in which one gets lost contemplating little details.

Every Belén has at least three essential figures: Joseph, the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus. These central figures are called the mystery, or “misterio” in Spanish.  The figures are traditionally made of clay or plaster and are hand painted by very skilled artisans although sometimes, other materials can be seen.

Andalucia Belen mystery and three wise men
Andalucia Belen: Mystery and three wise men

The first extra figures to be added to “the mystery” are the ox, the mule and the three wise men: Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar who come riding their camels from the far East to bring gold, incense and myrrh to Jesus.

And then it’s time for the other figures, structures, and little moving features representing the inhabitants of the town of Bethlehem and their surroundings are added.  It’s at this point when people’s imagination flies as they reproduce their own personal concept of the town where Jesus Christ was born 2013 years ago.

Traditional nativity scene in Andalucia
Nativity scene with the people of Bethlehem

Farmers, butchers, blacksmiths, shepherds, all sorts of farm animals, harvests, trees, houses, mills, castles, cobbled streets, mountains, lakes, rivers, fountains, wells (all with running water), real fog generated with water vapour, the day cycle with the sunrise, the daylight, the sunset and the night with its moon and stars…they all generate a magic atmosphere in which the little figures seem to be alive.

Children love to participate in setting up the nativity scene every year and some of them become great artisans later.

They are the biggest fans of the three wise men who, in the evening of the 5th of January, leave some presents for them at home if they have shown a good behaviour and good marks at school.

They are not allowed to see the three wise men leaving the presents. However, they’re most welcome to watch the spectacullar cavalcade that goes around towns the night before and in which gorgeous carriages carry Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar and their page-boys.

Three Kings, Reyes Magos in Spain
The annual procession of the Three Kings takes place in each town

Streets and balconies fill with people of all ages showing a level of joy and excitement difficult to compare to any other celebration in the year. Everyone greets the three wise men as they wave their hands and give handfuls of candy to people before starting their hard work later on.

And then the morning after, every member of the family wakes up early and very excited to open the doors of the lounge. Then everybody opens their presents in a magic atmosphere that feels as if the three wise men had just left the house.

To help you enjoy Christmas in Andalusia this season Toma tours are laying on two very special “one-off” trips.  But hurry – as we are a boutique agency places are limited to 8!  Follow the links to find out more…

Malaga Christmas Lights and Tapas

Kings Day Parade in Old Town Jerez



Photo credits: Marzipan By Tamorlan, Reyes Magos by emijrp via Wikimedia Commons

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