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1997 was the most significant recent landmark in the evolution of the Christmas festivities of San Lorenzo de El Escorial.
One contributory factor here lies in the structure of the festivities, with the aim of creating an event which not only fulfils the demands and needs of the local population, but also serves as a tourist attraction, bringing in more visitors to San Lorenzo de El Escorial at a time of the year when the numbers travelling to the town are typically lower.
From 1997 onwards, then, the Christmas Festivities were promoted through the creation of the Monumental Nativity Scene, provided with a fixed venue for the traditional display in the Exhibition Room of the Cultural Centre, the embellishment of the Parade of the Three Kings, and the increased impetus given to the various activities focused on the Christmas celebrations. Over fifteen years the Monumental Nativity Scene has become a cultural activity which is first of all hand-crafted by willing volunteers who constantly aim to incorporate innovative aspects within the project, and is furthermore appreciated by the group of people, whether or not religiously minded, who particularly experience and celebrate this time of the year, while lastly representing a major tourist attraction thanks to its originality, as the only such display put on in Spain, and the fact that it in particular attracts family tourism.
Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, whole families in short, find time in their schedule to bring the younger members of the household along to enjoy a wonderful celebration which is open to all.
The visitors themselves play a central role, becoming part of the Monumental Nativity Scene as if they were additional figures. Only their attire, their focus on enjoying themselves and observing the scenes, and the fact they are of flesh and blood, sets them apart from the figures arranged for their enjoyment.
A photograph taken alongside the most notable figures of the Nativity Scene is a must. Some prefer the more traditional scenes of the Manger, the Three Kings, the Annunciation, etc. Others aim to take a snap featuring some part of the Monastery in the background.
The younger visitors love to have their photo taken with the remarkable elephant, standing more than three metres high, or the smaller animals: the baby giraffes, elephant calf, etc.
The camels, sheep and goats are among the other favourite animal scenes, while the more daring prefer the caged tiger or the Roman chariot. Some slip among the figures marketing craft products that are impossible to purchase these days.
In short, an urban landscape which is transformed, taking visitors on a journey through time, giving them a central role in what is a unique experience to be enjoyed with family and friends, a world apart from everyday life.