So. First Christmas in Spain. It seems to me there are three ways of doing this – (1) try to import all English customs and do it as Englishly as possible; (2) try to do it completely Spanishly and be a bit confused throughout; or (3) try to do it as Spanishly as possible but with just a couple of familiar things in order to remember what day it is. I went for number three.
And it wouldn’t be Christmas in Málaga without a trip to see the Christmas lights (brilliantly designed by Grupo Ximenez from Puente Genil) and a tour of the belenes (nativity scenes).
I’d made a note of a couple of unmissable belenes, and then a very helpful woman in the Oficina de Turismo added a few more, mentioning in particular one which she thought I would find especially fun. My tour began in an orderly queue outside Málaga Ayuntamiento (town hall). Well we were bound to be orderly, there was me and four elderly ladies, and six police officers. Though the police presence became more understandable as opening time approached and the hordes arrived (including a loud singing lady who burst into impromptu wailing while a school party clapped along in time).
The belén was stunning. On a large scale, incredibly detailed, and beautifully executed. The large crowd shuffled by good-naturedly, with a few more outbursts from the singing lady. Having visited belenes in Barcelona, I looked out for the rather rude caganer, but this particular political tradition is mainly restricted to Catalunya so was nowhere to be seen.
Then on to Málaga cathedral, with an attractive wire sculpture scene outside the main entrance. Inside were three life-size scenes, dramatically-lit to emphasise the contrasting gloom, the intense colours, and the simple story.
Outside on the roundabout at the foot of Calle Larios was a rustic belén. Nearby in the main Oficina de Turismo they had gone with a maritime theme and built the whole belén in a fishing boat. Rather beautiful (or should that be “boatiful”?).
Then on to the “wild card”, located in the Sala de Exposiciones del Archivo Municipal. Nearby, so no distance to walk to, and the lady in Turismo had emphasised that I must be sure not to miss it.
The first four I’d seen couldn’t have been more different. Or so I thought. I was about to see the most bizarre belén. It was made entirely from Plasticene (Plastilina in Spanish). It was a strange juxtaposition of a solemn religious scene, with characters apparently out of Wallace and Gromit. Joseph (who did bear a more-than-passing resemblance to Wallace) had a look on his face as though he was hoping one of the three Kings was bearing Wensleydale cheese.
After this it was late enough that the Christmas lights were about to be turned on, so I returned to Plaza de la Constitución just in time. You know you’re still a Spanish “newbie” when you still find it odd to take in one single view including an ancient Moorish roof, palm trees, garish Christmas lights, oranges on the branches, and a massive blow-up Santa.
Strolling down Calle Larios I was dragged into a coffee shop by the four sweet old Spanish ladies I’d befriended in the queue outside the ayuntamiento. They hadn’t known about the other belenes so I’d written them a list, and apparently they’d been following me around all evening. They insisted that I finish my evening with them over a coffee and cake. How could I refuse?
© Tamara Essex 2012