Barcelona Christmas Fair Part 2: Nativity Scenes

The Fira de Santa Llúcia is not only a place for buying Christmas decorations but it is also a one-stop-shop for those seeking Nativity figures and accessories made with skill and a lot of heart. 

Fira de Santa Llúcia photo by

The tradition of depicting the birth of Jesus is ingrained in the Catalan culture. Although the first Catalan Nativity was made as early as the 14th century, the crèche with Joseph, Mary and Jesus became popular in Catalonia only two centuries later.

The opening of Barcelona’s Fira de Santa Llúcia in 1786 strengthened the tradition even more. 

The pessebre (Nativity crib) in Catalonia and other parts of Spain is a reproduction of Bethlehem. In Spanish, it is called belén, which is also the Spanish name for Bethlehem.

Fira de Santa Llúcia photo by

The crib has a pastoral setting: a farmhouse with the manger scene and, around it, different scenes like a woman washing clothes by the river and shepherds herding their sheep.

The crèche is set up on the feast day of Saint Catherine on November 25.  

But did you know that before the 20th century, the real pessebrist (or Nativity crib maker) would create a pessebre only on Christmas Eve? This is because it was deemed “irreverent to recreate the mystery of Christ’s birth before the event.”

That thinking is long gone, as evidenced by the number of pessebristes who participate in the fair each year.

The main materials for the Christmas crèche are moss (for the grass) and cork (for the mountains and other elements).  The sign in this shop says that it has been making cribs since 1786. That’s definitely one for the books!

Fira de Santa Llúcia photo by

A more contemporary but recognized pioneer in crèche making is the Deulofeu family. They have been doing this since 1929. 

Fira de Santa Llúcia photo by

The same is true with most stall owners in the fair: making and selling Nativity scenes is a family legacy, a tradition handed down from generation to generation.

Some create realistic depictions of the Nativity characters.

Fira de Santa Llúcia photo by

Others have a more non-traditional approach, as can be seen in these delightful modern figures from Pepa Pessebres. The casual style aims to “humanize” the mystery of the Nativity by adding a touch of humor to it.

Fira de Santa Llúcia photo by

The playfulness actually reminds me of animated films.

Fira de Santa Llúcia photo by

This next booth is where my new obsession began. The figures of Ma. Aurora are small, round and “neckless,” and irresistibly cute!

Fira de Santa Llúcia photo by

I think it took me twenty minutes before I was able to decide on which figures to buy. Can you blame me? Choosing only a few pieces from this adorable bunch is tough job!

Fira de Santa Llúcia photo by

Above: the artist who has been making these little darlings for over 30 years.

I have to warn you, though, that they can be quite addictive.

The proof? Here’s my original purchase:

My miniature Nativity figures photo by

Which grew into this. In a matter of two days.

My miniature Nativity scene photo by

But that’s nothing compared to what the other owners have. Check out Ma. Aurora’s Facebook page to see some amazing Nativity scenes created for these unique pessebre figures.

Another shop that caught my attention sells miniature donkeys and other small – and really small – figurines. They were made by husband and wife artisans, Ma. del Carmen and Josep (Stand no. 5-6). The wife makes the clay images and the husband paints them. Their family has been in the business since 1940.

Fira de Santa Llúcia photo by

Too bad none of their children is interested in the craft as they find the Internet more enticing, according to Josep.

Fira de Santa Llúcia photo by

I would gladly trade my mouse for a modelling tool. Any chance they would adopt me?

These caganers are their works, too. We bought the one holding a stick.

Fira de Santa Llúcia photo by

Oops, did the defecating images in the photo shock you? The caganers (which literally means “defecators”) are typical in Catalan nativity scenes. Although it is difficult to pinpoint the exact origins of the caganer, sources say that the custom began in the 18th century.

The traditional caganer is a peasant wearing a white shirt, dark trousers and a baretina (red beret). He is partially hidden in a corner of the Nativity crib, pooping.

caganer 2

The caganer is supposed to inject humor into an otherwise serious scene. Ethnographer Joan Amades also attributes the custom to the belief that the excrement will “fertilize” the ground of the pessebre, making it usable again for the next year. It is believed, too, that the caganer brings happiness and luck.

Today, there are many images of the caganer: from politicians to celebrities, superheroes to athletes.

caganer 3

FYI: The caganer isn’t the only “crapping” figure in Catalan Christmas. There is also the Caga tió (literally, the “shitting log”).

fira 4

This ends my two-part feature on the Christmas Fair in Barcelona! I hope that, like me, you got to know more about the colorful Christmas traditions in the region of Catalonia!  If you’re in Barcelona, remember that you have only until December 23 to visit the fair.

Have you read Part 1 of my feature yet? Know which Christmas ornaments will bring you luck (well, besides the caganer).

Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to follow me, too, on Facebook!

1. Official website of the Fira de Santa Llúcia
2. Official website of the Government of Catalunya
3. Wikipedia’s page on the caganer

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