Dozens of councils stage ‘living nativity scenes’ using local volunteers and farm animals to recreate the iconic Bethlehem scene in the run up to Christmas.
But despite their popularity, a growing number of people in Spain believe it's time to drop the use of animals in the scenes.
“The animals are out of their usual habitat and can suffer with the noise, bright lights and the crowds,” said Tamara de Prado, head of animal protection charity, Apadat, in Toledo.
Her organisation has launched a campaign to close the traditional living nativity scene organised by the Caja Rural bank in Toledo for the last 30 years which this year involves some 70 animals.
Some 32,000 people have already signed the petition calling for its closure on Change.org.
Meanwhile, in Cuevas del Almanzorain Almeria province of southern Spain, organizers of the live nativity scene were investigated after reports that a donkey showed signs of mistreatment while taking part.
Two years ago, a young donkey in a nativity scene in Lucena, near Cordoba, was killed when an overweight Spaniard sat on it for a joke.
The 150kg man crushed the donkey by sitting on it. Photo: El Refugio del Burrito
The man was arrested. and charged but the case was kicked out of court earlier this year when a judge ruled “it did not constitute a crime”.
Last year, animal rights party Pacma brought a complaint against organizers in Tenerife who used 15 camels as part of the nativity scene after they were transported to the site in unsuitable conditions.
"Ideally we would like stop all animals being used in such festivities," said Laura Duarte, spokeswoman for the party.
Several councils have outlawed the use of animals in their Christmas scenes including Madrid, Barcelona, Zaragoza, Valencia, A Coruña and Cadiz.