What’s a Belén?

One of the things I was most looking forward to about Spain was seeing what it would be like to have Christmas in Europe. And one of the unique facets of a Spanish Christmas is the importance placed on the Belén.



A Belén is a nativity scene, generally consisting of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus at the very minimum, but usually accompanied by shepherds, Wise Men, and a whole lot of other people and animals.


Subversive Belén in Barcelona, complete with selfie taker

There seems to be an unwritten rule that one must do their best to make their Belén as fabulous as possible. For instance, the Plaza Major in Madrid was filled with stalls selling all manner of Belén necessities (think moss, bark, sculptures, small barns), whilst my school had its annual Belén making activity.


Life size Belén in Zaragoza

To say it was competitive is the understatement of the year.

On the first day of December, each grade was told which part of the Belén was their responsibility. Year 6, being their final year, were told to make the three “main players” (Mary, Joseph and Jesus), whilst Year 5 were allocated the shepherds and Wise Men. I’m not too sure who decided that Year 4 would make windmills and bridges (were windmills even around 2000 years ago?), although I’m guessing that it was getting a bit difficult to think of different things that the kids could make by this stage!


Note windmills

The children were then put in teams, and told to make their Belén things after school and on the weekend. Two weeks later, they brought them in. I was amazed at how much effort had gone into it. A lot of the kids (and parents, I’m guessing) had clearly spent ages making sure their cows looked just right and that the cloth on the Wise Men’s camels was precisely the right shade of blue (I’m serious).


During the last week of school, the entire entrance foyer was turned into “Belén-land.” The Head Teacher (whose job seems to consist mainly of arranging festive decorations and parties) assembled a big collection of tables, covered them in sand (bags not cleaning up after…) and then the class tutors chose the best creations for the Belén.


Whilst it looked great, I did feel a bit sorry for the kids whose figures were deemed “superfluous to requirements”. These offerings, which included a beautiful pink Barbie house (very nice, but anachronistic), some tables whose legs had broken off, and a couple of very creepy looking scarecrows (which may have been recycled from Halloween, I’m beginning to think) were banished to the library, where their indignant creators complained bitterly to each other that their work had been snubbed.

But I’ve got to admit, my favourite Belén figurine was the one below. I’m not too sure if a student, teacher, or parent made him, but I congratulate them for their sense of humour.


The king!

What’s been happening?

I realised today that I have been deserting this blog, mainly because I have been sick AGAIN (or should that be STILL?), and have been struggling even getting out of bed in the morning, let alone going to work, let alone writing here. Excuses, excuses, I know…


But as it’s coming up to Christmas, things have been a bit quieter and less stressful, although the action at school is continuing. Here’s some memorable things which have happened so far this week (and let me just note, this has been a pretty average week in the school world…)…

1. Attempted throat removal

Aah, yes. The Year 6 class. It always provides for some action, although not necessarily of a pleasant kind. Yesterday, things took a particularly notable turn when Antonio and Raul had a dispute. I wasn’t too sure exactly what happened, but it seems that Raul insulted Antonio’s dad, and in response, Antonio attempted to remove Raul’s voicebox using only his fingernails. Raul turned up to class with a huge red gash across his throat, whilst Antonio was crying and screaming.

Cue a 45 minute lecture from the teacher about “being nice to our classmates.”

In a strangely ironic twist, the next chapter in the Year 6 English text is on why bullying is wrong.


2. Attempted groping

If the goings on in the Year 6 class weren’t bad enough, they pale in comparison to what has been happening in the Kindergarten group. I’m not sure how or why, but I appear to be receiving a lot of unwanted attention from one of the 5 year olds. It started a few weeks ago, when I noticed something touching my backside. I assumed that I had accidentally brushed against a chair or table, but when I turned around, I saw one of the little boys grinning away, with his hand on my bottom.

At first, I thought that he didn’t know what he was doing. But every day since then, I have found my bum attacked with regularity.

This is somewhat disconcerting.


I tried explaining to the culprit that “It’s not nice to touch a person there”, but to no avail. Another day, the same dirty mitt approaching my backside.


I now find myself spending most of the class sitting down, feigning tiredness, in an effort to avoid unwanted pawing.

3. Attempted football match

Every year at the school, there is a students versus teachers football match. The students LOVE this. Most of them play football, and there is even a roster for which grade can use the goals on which day.

Unfortunately, the teachers weren’t so keen.

In fact, there weren’t even enough for a team.

Desperate times called for desperate measures, and participation became virtually unavoidable. This meant that Mary, the very proper Year 5 teacher, ended up playing in her formal dress and high heels (Aside- did you know that they actually make high heeled football boots?!).


I didn’t ask about the result.

I didn’t dare.

So, that’s a pretty “normal” week for me. Being back at school has been a lot of things, but at least I can’t say it’s boring…

Cultural Wednesdays- Week 6

This week’s Cultural Wednesday was an afternoon of modern art, of the more, well, “unusual” kind.

I caught the train from my school, and got off at Atocha, where they have some rather interesting giant sculptures of babies’ heads outside the station. I’m really not too sure what they are meant to symbolise (if anything), but they seem to attract a steady crowd of tourists, keen to be snapped with said objets d’art

I then walked to the nearby Parque de El Retiro, the Spanish equivalent of Sydney’s Hyde Park or New York’s Central Park. Whilst I’ve been to the Retiro a few times before, I didn’t realise until last week that there are a couple of exhibition spaces there, where they often hold different art shows.

The first of these spaces is called the Palacio de Cristal, and is an enormous structure built of glass and metal.IMG_8232.JPG

The artwork (installation? creative piece? insert word of your choosing?) which is presently showing is a soundscape by a German artist, who had spent over 5 years recording the noise of ice cracking and falling (can’t fault him for his dedication). He had used these recordings to create a 2 hour (!!!!!) work of ice sounds, which was played on a loop in the Palacio.

Because the sound of ice cracking is similar to that of glass shattering, the effect was kind of eerie, and it seemed like the walls of the structure were about to fall down.

Ingenious, yes, but not exactly pleasant listening. I felt incredibly sorry for the security guards, who have to stand there and listen to the soundscape for hours each day. They must be going a bit batty.


The second art exhibition, in the nearby Palacio de Velázquez, was even more esoteric.


It was a series of works by a Basque “conceptual artist”, with installations such as Bastardo, which consisted of a school table and chair suspended from the wall, and Gimme Shelter, shown below.


There were also a few written works, which I couldn’t fully understand with my bad Spanish, but here’s a picture of one below (anyone who can translate it accurately gets a prize!):


But the most interesting piece of modern art I saw on Wednesday was in the process of being constructed. At the Retiro Lake, I walked past a couple who had their two tiny dogs perched on a post, and were trying desperately to take their photo. Unfortunately, the dogs had other ideas, and refused to look at the camera at the same time.

I imagine that perfecting this artwork may take longer than the 5 years of recording the ice cracking…