Thursday, December 22, 2016

Day Trip {Arcos -- Live Nativity Event}

Everything for the Christmas season just seems bigger in Europe.  And Spain is no exception (more on Spanish traditions for Christmas in a later post).  Spain focuses much more on the religious aspect of the holiday season -- each town has a nativity scene set up in the main square.  But one town fairly close to us takes the nativity scene to a whole new level....

Arcos (this was actually our very first day trip) is a town about an hour away which I highly recommend visiting whenever.  But in December, the ENTIRE town puts on a live nativity scene (or belén viviente) -- basically the whole town recreates Bethlehem -- for one night only.  We had heard about it and read about it and knew we had to experience it -- but we weren't sure what to expect.  We knew we needed to get there early because thousands (yes, thousands) of people come to Arcos to see their live nativity.  And my Spanish teacher informed me it was a "not to be missed" event but that I should most definitely put Serafina in a buggy so that she'd be safe from all the people!

So on the only Saturday that the town does the live nativity we enjoyed a Spanish lunch (aka eating a very late lunch) at our friends house.  We all had some hot chocolate, soup and other treats and then we were on our merry way -- it was a fun caravan to Arcos where we parked at the bottom of the hill town, loaded up the strollers and hiked up to the entrance of town where there were already SO many people!  We got in line with everyone else and just hung out.  In true Spanish fashion, bars were open and there were many food stalls serving hot chocolate (very thick hot chocolate) and doughnuts called buñuelos (bland dough fried in olive oil that tastes like olive oil melting in your mouth -- sounds gross, but actually very good).  We ate and drank while the toddlers ran around and waited... and waited some more.  Almost two hours later (it actually went by very fast), we finally made our way to the front of the line!!

Tip: we arrived right when it started (at 6:30) and the line was already so long!  I have heard that people can go very early and see set up and then hopefully get "stuck" up by the cathedral to see everything.  However, it wouldn't have worked for us to be there that long with a toddler -- it worked well to let Serafina have a good nap and meal at home, then head out.  And she had so much fun running around with her little friends and all the other Spanish children that it worked out for us!

And the lighting was gorgeous for viewing the scenes but terrible for pictures -- so we did our best!  You had to be quick with so many people wanting to view the scenes, pet the animals or also take a picture that you couldn't take your time to get the settings right!

The town has the whole thing very organized, they let people in in waves so that the route through all the scenes moves fairly smoothly.  So once you get to the front of the line, you enter through the fancy gates (that have been set up as part of the event) and you begin to see various scenes from biblical times set up on patios/entryways of various homes and shops.

Then you'll enter into the main square (where the church and castle are located) where the whole square has been turned into various scenes -- complete with animals (a donkey plowing, sheep, chickens and more), fires, people eating and singing and making food.  It was so unbelievably cool and a little surreal.  The attention to detail was just amazing.  And there were the Three Kings for kids to sit on their lap and get their picture taken (the kings are like Spain's Santa Clause).  We were all so in awe of everything that as we made our way on the path away from the main square (complete with signs and everything), we were shocked to find more scenes!

It ended up taking us TWO hours to go through the whole town and we did not move slow (nor fast because of all the people, but at a decent pace).  We came across Mary on a donkey being pulled by Joseph, lots of people singing, people actually making dough...  And at one point, just Trevor, Serafina and I ended up at the bottom of a small road when we heard drumming.  We looked up and saw the Three Kings coming straight towards us.  All the Spanish around us rushed over to join in the festivities, but Serafina was the only kid, so the Three Kings came immediately up to her to wish her well and she.... Well, she flipped out.  Started screaming and crying and trying to hide in her stroller.  It was oh so sad and the Kings felt awful, apologizing and telling me they felt so bad.  All I could say was no pasa nada (don't worry about it) and tell them that she hates everyone in costume!

And eventually, we turned a corner and in one of the smallest scenes was what many know as a nativity scene: Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.  And yes, the baby was real (it had a pacifier!) and was insanely tiny (easily a true newborn) and in a manger.  I could have stood there for hours, I just couldn't take my eyes away from this precious scene where a mother was looking over her baby.  It brought tears to my eyes (and I could tell I wasn't the only one as people just stood there in silence).

But this was not the last scene!  There were plenty more as we made our way back down to where we started.  Serafina even got a certificate stating she attended the belén viviente in 2016!

Tip: for toddlers, a stroller was the best (or a carrier).  It was chilly and actually very smokey from all the fires at the various scenes that it was perfect to let Serafina run around and see the animals when it was safe and then place her in the stroller for when we had more walking to do between scenes.  The path is very easy to follow (signs and just follow everyone else!) but it does take a while -- it isn't a quick in and out so be prepared.  And all the streets are decorated with palm leaves, rosemary and torch lights so that's another way to know you're on the right path.  The scenes often had simple signs stating what it was, but that required some translating and also recalling the biblical stories so we mostly just enjoyed the insanely detailed scenes rather than focus on what was what.  

Overall, I cannot recommend this event enough -- it was not a traditional Christmas event that Americans are used to so it was quite fun doing a more traditional Spanish event.  We will for sure be going back year after year as long we are in town and it doesn't rain (it is almost always cancelled if it is raining).

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