Andorra’s Nativity Scenes and New Year’s Celebrations


Andorra’s Nativity Scenes and New Year’s Celebrations

It seems to me that Europe can be divided between the Christmas tree countries and those that favour the pessebre, or nativity scene. Until recently Andorra was very much a nativity scene homeland though today Christmas trees are being welcomed too. That said, when I first came here over 30 years ago, part of the local foc i lloc, or ‘fire and hearth’ tax, included the right to cut down one tree from an allocated piece of communal forest, though whether the tree was supposed to become a Christmas tree or a traditional Tió Christmas log, I’m not sure.

What I remember most was going into La Massana Church on my first Christmas Eve in Andorra to rehearse for the English Nine Lessons and Carols, and discovering this amazing nativity scene. Laid out on a base of plywood maybe 2.5 m square, was a whole miniature hillside. Moss formed the covering for the rolling hills and across it from all directions came miniature figures. The Three Kings in full regalia on their camels and standing some 12 cm tall, were still off in the distance to the right. There were shepherds minding their sheep, and of course cattle lowing and a donkey in the stable where Mary sat patiently by the manger, gazing in wonder at her new born child, Jesus, as Joseph stood guard beside them. But what made this nativity scene the cause of such wonder and which brought small children on an annual pilgrimage to gaze at it, was the tiny stream that ran continuously down the hillside and the water wheel that turned in the flow, all worked by a little mechanism hidden under the scenery. And then of course there was the carger, or ‘shitter’, that age old figure of rural fertility and good luck to be sought out, crouched somewhere in the countryside with his pants down, fertilising the soil.

Today this same Nativity scene can be found in the Escaldes Church of Sant Pere Màrtir at the top of Av. Carlemany high street. Though, over the years ,the number of little figurines has multiplied until it seems more like a city, rather than a pastoral, scene. The church is open for Mass each day at 19.30. Go a little early and you can see the wonder for yourself.

Elsewhere around the country, clustered outside the parish churches, you find full sized nativity scenes. The best known, and well worth a visit with small children, is that in front of Canillo’s Comú or town hall and cable car building. Here, spread along the plaça, are statues of sturdy mountain cattle and horses, pens full of geese and another of poultry. Pigs in a sty, a carpenter at work on his bench and people selling traditional Christmas fare. Best to visit it during the day and preferably in sunshine as it can be pretty chilly.

Once there why not also go up to the third floor of the telecabina/cable car building behind the the comú and take a look at the prize-winning homemade pessebres entered in the comú’s annual pessebre competition. This year there’s one exceptional one made by Augustino Nicolau Ribeiro, all in wood and featuring many figures and even a frozen river with ducks on it.

(An extract from Andorra Revealed)
Pubs, bars, discos and households all over Andorra and Spain turn their televisions up to welcome in the New Year. This is so as to hear the all-important midnight chimes of the Puerta del Sol clock in Madrid. Stacked on all sides are grapes, nowadays sometimes in special little tins of twelve, otherwise still on the bunch. You select twelve and wait. Sharp at midnight the clock strikes. You gobble the grapes in hectic succession, one for each chime. If you manage to eat them all before the chimes finish then you’re assured of a prosperous year ahead! Immediately afterwards everyone raises their glass of cava or champagne to toast in the New Year. But don’t look for fireworks. Except for the odd New Year rocket or firecracker, there’ll be no action.


Wednesday, 28th December at 20.15 in Sant Esteve Church, Andorra la Vella. (Free) A Special Concert for Sant Esteve (Saint Stephen’S Day) given by the church’s excellent organist: Ignacio Ribas Taléns with commentaries by Archbishop Sr. Joan-Enric Vives – Co-Prince of Andorra; Sra. Conxita Marsol, Mayor of Andorra la Vella; and Mossèn Ramon Sàrries, archpriest of the Valleys and rector of the Arxiprestal Church of Sant Esteve. During this special performance, the organist, Ignacio Ribas Taléns, will offer a selection of works from the international repertoire for grand organ, as well as some that he himself has composed. The program offers three great works from the Baroque organ repertoire. One of the most important pieces that Johann Sebastian Bach composed for organ, the great Prelude and Fugue in E flat major, rings out in contrast to two works of the 21st century: Pasacalle Glosado Ignacio himself and the Te Deum by the renowned Latvian composer, Pēteris Vasks.

Wednesday, 28th December at 21.30 in the Church of Santa Coloma, Andorra la Vella, The White Heaven Vocal Grup. This is a group of six singers from Andorra, Barcelona and Manresa. The show is 100% a cappella (unaccompanied) with electronic effects, vocal arrangements, body percussion all produced by the singers themselves; a performance where images and sounds interact with the voices and the bodies of the six professional singers.

Sunday, January, 1st 2017 at 19h at the National Auditorium, Ordino. (35€, or 25€ for seats behind the stage and some along the upper side balconies. Tickets from festivalnarcisoyepes). Book now for this very popular New Year’s Concert of Waltzes played by the ONCA (Orquestra Nacional de Cambra d’Andorra) conducted by Marzio Conti. The concert starts with the overture of Franz von Suppé’s operetta, Light Cavalry, followed by a waltz from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Nino Rota’s waltz for the film, The Godfather, Maurice Jarre’s Lara’s theme from Doctor Zhivago and the following pieces by Johann Strauss: the Champagne Polka, Fantasy of the Carnival of Venice, Artist Quadrille, and The Emperor Waltz. The performance ends with La boda de Luis Alonso by Gerónimo Giménez.

Monday, 26th December at 20h and Friday, 30th December at 21.30 at the Centre Cultural, Sant Julià de Lòria. (10€ from morabanc Andorra’s 23rd consecutive edition of the ever popular, Els Pastorets (The Shepherd Boys). Els Pastorets is a very traditional Catalan entertainment, indeed it dates back to the Middle Ages, and is a cross between a comic pantomime and a dramatic nativity play. Lots of jokes, slap stick and laughter set around two shepherd boys trying to get to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus. But their journey is beset on all sides by colourful, snarling devils, bubbling cauldrons and lots of smoke, all orchestrated by the fiendish Lucifer as he tries to stop the boys and always, at the most perilous moment, the situation is saved, ‘Duduh!’, by Angel Gabriel who appears on high, flourishing a sword of righteousness! Els Pastorets is well acted by local amateur actors guided by professional directors. Children love it – and so do I! The first time I went I didn’t understand a word but still found things to laugh at. If you go on Three Kings, 6th January, then, at the end, the Kings come down from the back of the theatre in all their splendour. Do give it a try! (Also on Friday 6th and Saturday, 7th January, 2017 at 18h.)

Tuesday 27th to Thursday, 29th December at 20.30 at the Cinemes Illa Carlemany, Escaldes-Engordany. Assassin’s Creed. Directed by Justin Kurzel and Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons. Through a revolutionary technology that unlocks his genetic memories, Callum Lynch experiences the adventures of his ancestor, Aguilar, in 15th Century Spain. He discovers he is descended from a mysterious secret society, the Assassins, and amasses incredible knowledge and skills to take on the oppressive and powerful Templar organization in the present day.

From Tuesday, 27th December until Sunday, 1st January, 2017 from 16h – 21h at the Sports Complex Encamp. (Entrance per day 4€ or for seven days 14€) 25th Exhibition for children and youth (with lots of great activities, simulators etc.). Last year I gave this event less attention than it deserved. Checking on the internet, two years ago it drew more than 6,000 people over the week-long festival held partly in Encamp and partly in Pas de la Casa. Here are some of the things on offer in Encamp: workshops for all ages, including one with Lego. Contests for different simulators and a children’s show every day in Encamp. Amongst the attractions will be simulators for Moto GP, flight, F1 driving, mountain biking, helicopter, surfing and many more. There will be a Mini Arcade and target areas, Box KINET, Playstation and a Wifi Laser Zone. On the first floor will be a playroom area, which includes a playground, a children’s train and two inflatable giants. In addition, the multipurpose room on the third floor will house, among others, electric skateboards, a human shuttle, several inflatables, a bungee run and circuits for electric cars.

Have an enjoyable week!

Culturally yours



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