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A newborn king and an accordion rebel

By Antonio De Jesús Aguado

No matter the size of the figures placed in the nativity scene, setting up the crèche is a tradition that gathers the whole family and represents an act of faith, love, hope and happiness. In San Miguel the most representative nativity scene is the one that has been set up at the kiosk in the Jardín since 1960, which according to Ángeles Almanza, restorer of sacred art, is a gift for locals and visitors. Following Christmas, on New Year’s Eve local revelers will fill the Jardín to usher in 2013 dancing to the music of popular Mexican musician Celso Piña.

Getting ready for Christmas

The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem is remembered and celebrated by Christians the world over on December 25. Four Sundays prior to Christmas the Advent season begins, a time for meditation, reflection and prayer to prepare for the arrival of God’s son. During this period families used to display crowns made of pine sticks and light a candle every Sunday; the candle represents a virtue that needs to be practiced or improved upon during the next week.

It has been said that the representation of the nativity dates from the 13th century and is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. The evangelist, wearing humble clothes, was surprised by a severe winter, which led him to seek refuge in a chapel in Greccio, Italy. While meditating on the writings of St. Luke he was inspired to create a tableau of the Baby Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. He constructed a small house with straw and a crib inside and asked locals to bring an ox and a donkey and invited some of them to act out the roles of the holy family and shepherds.

Nativity at the Jardín

A document published in 1995, written by the city historian at the time, José Cornelio Espinosa, and provided to Atención by traditionalist Rubén Villasana, states that 1960 was the first year when a nativity scene was set up at the kiosk of the Jardín, installed by the santero (a person who sculpts figures of saints) José Rodríguez. The document also states that “in the beginning the nativity scene was made up just of the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, the angel and Baby Jesus.”

Restorer Ángeles Almanza, former santero Genaro Almanza’s daughter, commented, “In 1968, when don José Rodríguez was sick and could not put up the nativity anymore, he asked my father, who was his protegé, to keep placing the nativity in the Jardín, and so he did.” In 2009, don Genaro Almanza passed away, so Ángeles Almanza and her brothers took don Genaro’s place to preserve the tradition. Almanza commented that in around 1984 Professor Rubén Villasana started participating, and that was when live animals were added to the nativity. “We continue setting it up as a gift for sanmiguelenses and visitors, and also because it is a way to keep my father’s memory alive,” said Almanza.

“This nativity scene with living animals reminds us of another one where even Baby Jesus was represented by a real baby,” states the document. That nativity was put up by Fray José Mojica at the Quinta Santa Mónica and “was very memorable due to its originality and beauty, and for children it was memorable because of the aguinaldos [small bags of treats].”

Ring in the new year with Celso Piña

María José Garrido, head of Turismo, Fomento Económico y Relaciones Internacionales (Tourism,  Economic Development and International Affairs), said that the events taking place on New Year’s Eve at the Jardín will be like those in other years “but improved.” On December 31 at the Jardín, locals and visitors will ring in the New Year accompanied by popular Mexican musician Celso Piña and his accordion. Garrido commented that Piña was hired “to integrate the community with an international celebrity, and because his music style pleases everyone, we felt that he is the ideal ingredient for the party since he unites styles, genres and cultures. He projects the vision of the administration.” She also said that bringing Piña is part of the strategy to attract more tourists and to keep positioning San Miguel as a city to visit. Finally, she commented, “Locals and tourists will have fun safely, and everyone is invited to the fiesta.”

Celso Piña is known as “the rebel of the accordion” and is considered one of the top Mexican composers and musicians. His music is unique because it represents not only Mexican popular styles such as norteño (northern) but also Colombian rhythms, hip hop, ska, reggae and rap. He has been performing since around 1980. It has been said that Piña can make even death dance. Once, during a concert in Monterrey, Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez danced to Piña’s rhythms and asked him to sing “Macondo,” a song about the fictional town in Marquéz’s most important book, One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Carlos Monsivais, one of the most celebrated contemporary writers in Mexico, once said, “Celso Piña is a social phenomenon, as they affirm, and a musical phenomenon, as it is heard.” In 2007 Celso Piña celebrated his 25th anniversary in the music world and launched a CD that includes performances with important Mexican musical icons such as Lila Downs, Gloria Trevi, Julieta Venegas, Eugenia León and Café Tacvba, among others.

Symbolism of the nativity figures

Baby Jesus is the love that arrived on earth to find shelter within the human heart.

Joseph represents obedience and strength turned into man.

Mary is the comprehensive and kindhearted woman who is faithful and loves God.

The angel is the living representation of love, mercy and goodness.

The manger represents humility and simplicity.

The ox’s function is to keep Baby Jesus’ crib warm and is an example of how people should create an environment full of love and warmth in their homes.

The donkey, as the most loyal and humble of animals, was selected to accompany Mary and Joseph through their journey.

The three wise men, through offerings of gold, frankincense and myrrh, symbolize royalty, worship and sacrificial death.

The shepherds remind us of the importance of helping and watching over others.

The star represents an endless and refreshing source of light that brings hope and illuminates the darkness.



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