The nativity scene in Plaça Sant Jaume pays homage to Barcelona's residents

Playwright and set designer Ignasi Cristià i Garcia recreates a nativity scene in Plaça Sant Jaume where tradition and digital techniques coexist, featuring characters like yourself. And it's not the only nativity scene in the city.


Plaça Sant Jaume hosts one of the essential Christmas traditions: the placement of a nativity scene. In recent years, this task has fallen on artists and prominent professionals in the scene, such as this year’s creator, Ignasi Cristià. A man of the theatre and a designer of exhibition spaces, Cristià has conceived a scene with two main elements: the image of the nativity scene, featuring characters closely related to the city’s inhabitants, and a review of eight hundred years of nativity scenes. Come and see Greccio, Naples, and Barcelona from1 December to 6 January. It is one of the most popular and modern aspects of Barcelona’s Christmas, but you will also find nativity scenes worth visiting at the Pedralbes Monastery and the Museu Marès.

The creator of the nativity scene in Plaça Sant Jaume is a set designer and playwright who, after working for ten years on Catalan stages, decided to set up his studio in 1999. From there, he creates highly immersive spaces that envelop visitors and convey messages through senses and emotions.

This year, when you enter Plaça Sant Jaume, you will see a structure visible from the entire space that takes the form of a miniature theatre. Inside, there is a space of magic and fantasy with figures made from photographic impressions on die-cut resin. Celebration, the joy of living, and the Mediterranean character are central elements of the installation. Peep into this large stage box, and you’ll see the classic image of the nativity scene. The child, Saint Joseph, the Virgin, the shepherds, the kings… All of them have come from a selection of photographs that have been digitally treated, and transformed into painted characters with texture and brushstrokes, thus uniting tradition with digital modernity.

Around the central characters, Barcelona and its inhabitants form a grand chorus that accompanies the protagonist’s family but also blends with the main characters. The urban background and the careful characterisation of the characters are central elements of a nativity scene where nearly seventy people of all kinds and the most diverse communities coexist in Barcelona. Come and look for yourself because, in this nativity scene, you will undoubtedly find a character with whom you can identify.

This modern nativity scene is the translation to current times of the Neapolitan nativity scenes so popular in the 18th century, in which the city, its landscape, and the professions practised in it were very present. Today, reflecting the current city in the representation of the nativity scene (from Montjuïc to Sant Adrià) shows that, beyond the religious symbol, the nativity scene can be a cultural manifestation that unites people of various backgrounds.

However, the representation of the nativity scene is only one part of this year’s installation. You will know that these days commemorate the eight hundred years of what is said to be the first nativity scene. To pay tribute to this tradition born in the Mediterranean, the artist places at the back of the main stage of this year’s nativity scene an exhibition with a series of paintings that review its history.

You will see scenes set in the Italian town of Greccio where, they say, on Christmas Eve of the year 1223, Saint Francis of Assisi wanted to celebrate the birth of Jesus by recreating the scene in a live performance. From here, you will relive the history of Christmas nativity scenes, with special attention to the development of nativity art in Naples and the Catalan tradition in general and Barcelona in particular, hence the title of this nativity scene. The entire installation has been made using sustainable materials: wood, printing on weather-resistant paper, large-format canvases, and outdoor LED lighting.

However, if you prefer to see more classic nativity scenes, you have one very close by. At the Museu Frederic Marès (until 7 January), the Associació de Pessebristes de Barcelona commemorates the eight hundred years of this tradition with a nativity scene dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi, the supposed author of the first nativity scene in history. The creation is inspired by painters of the time, especially works by Giotto di Bondone. Pay attention to the floral arrangements, as they are a creation of the students of the Casa dels Oficis de l’Espectacle en Viu de Barcelona Activa.

At the Monastery of Pedralbes (from 16 December to 2 February), in collaboration with the Associació de Pessebristes de Barcelona, its nativity scene focuses on the annunciation and birth in exquisite dioramas created with natural materials and plaster. The figures you will see are the work of Daniel José Urseguía (1909 – 1990), who specialized in the orientalist trend initiated by Domènech Talarn.

If you want to see a nativity scene of the 21st century and relive the history of this Christmas tradition, come to Plaça Sant Jaume and see the nativity scene prepared by set designer and playwright Ignasi Cristià. And if you prefer classic nativity scenes, don’t miss those at the Museu Frederic Marès and the Monestir de Pedralbes.