Many Western Europeans grew up with a multi-generational Christmas holy family scene that was rolled out on to the mantelpiece in mid-December every year.
This varied from stick creatures made by the children to high quality porcelain. The main interest was in protecting them from indifferent cats, ignorant tennis balls, and over cooking by the fireplace below. They were a tradition, little else.
But some cities in Europe have quite a different understanding of the holy family display. As an example in Zaragoza, a major portion of the central town square is filled with every character, animal and tree that could possibly be included in the Nativity scene. They're all life-size.
Walking around the 50 meter by 20 meter installation is an interesting experience as you feel you're peeking into history. The images avoid the soporific looks of the traditional Nativity with smiles and happy glances. The entire presentation has an upbeat feel that brings back some of the non-mercantile joy generations once had in Christmas.
There are many reasons to visit Zaragoza but if time permits at Christmas, visiting to see this life-size Nativity along with the market that springs up around it and the wonderful mix of architecture, modern and vintage that surround it, is really worth the effort.
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