You know the Christmas season is here when social media becomes awash with criticism for Barcelona’s Belen – the Nativity scene installed by City Hall in the Plaça Sant Jaume.
Continuing a tradition that began when Ada Colau became mayor five years ago, the Nativity scene unveiled on Friday immediately divided opinions and left many scratching their heads as to the meaning it was supposed to convey.
This year’s offering may at first glance appear not to have been unpacked properly as the figures one expects to find in a traditional depiction of the Christmas story all appear in old wooden storage boxes.
Es una vergüenza que @AdaColau y @pscbarcelona se gasten 97.000€ en un pesebre que parece un punto verde de recogida de residuos ♻️. #BelenBarcelona #SeArmoElBelen @pp_bcn @PPCatalunya pic.twitter.com/pBH2PFHtQU
— Josep Bou Vila ?? (@josebouvila) November 29, 2019
Baby Jesus in his crib takes pride of place in the centre ( in a wooden crate) and piled in boxes around him it is possible to spot Mary, Joseph, the odd farm animal, visiting shepherds, a wise man astride a camel and even an angle.
So the elements are there.
But the characters are joined by other boxes containing the detritus of Christmas; a poinsettia, boxed up baubles, a turkey roasting in a tin, tangles of tinsel and a Christmas hamper.
“When I think of the nativity scene, what comes to mind is Christmases spent living at my parents' house. For me, the most notable thing was not setting up the scene, arranging the elements of the stable on a table and placing the figurines around the manger, but rather all the previous preparation that led up to it,” said artist Paula Bosch explaining her inspiration for the installation.
“It started with a visit to the attic and rummaging through all the storage boxes.”
But although her reference is clear, her artistry hasn’t been appreciated by everyone.
“Instead of a nativity scene, it looks like a storage room,” said one detractor on Twitter.
Another joked that Ada Colau had set up a new ‘Punto Limpia’ in Plaça Sant Jaume. “You can take your old tat to throw away and recycle”.
@AdaColau ha instalado un punto limpio en la Plaza de Sant Jaume, pueden llevar uds. sus trastos viejos para depositarlos y reciclar.
Ah! No!… disculpen, me dicen que es el belén de este año… pic.twitter.com/tiHe6KJWI8
— V. Magnacky (@VMagnacky) November 27, 2019
Someone else said it looked “like a rummage sale”, while another said it was like a “kitsch stall at a flea market”.
Another cleverly announced that it was Black Friday in Plaça Sant Jaume – meaning everything was going cheap.
Josep Bou Vila, a city councillor for the conservative PP branded it “a disgrace” and pointed out that the installation that cost €97,000 looked like a recycling dump.
In 2016, the elements of the traditional stable scene were placed individually in their own snow globe, including a cow on skis emblazed with the Catalan flag.
The following year, in 2017, the scene was represented by white cardboard cutouts on stilts.
Even more bizarre was the effort in 2018 when giant chairs set around a Christmas table represented the holy figures.