The Nativity in San Miguel de Allende
By Antonio De Jesús Aguado
One of the traditions that gathers the entire family in Mexico is the setting up of the nacimiento (Nativity scene). In the heart of San Miguel de Allende, the kiosk in the Jardín, since 1939 a life-size Nativity has been set up by traditionalists and the Almanza family. Pastorelas (Christmas plays), Christmas carols and more events will be held to celebrate the birth of the son of God in a humble manger.
Baby Jesus’ arrival is celebrated on December 24. Four weeks before Christmas, Catholics get ready for the event by placing in their houses a crown made of pine sticks. This season before Christmas, known as Advent, is a time for meditation, reflection and prayer. During this period, families light candles that represent virtues that need to be practiced or improved upon.
A few days before December 25, family members begin constructing the Nativity scene in their homes, building a manger, mountains and landscapes made of cardboard as well as rivers and other scenes. Hay, moss and sawdust cover the base of the structure, which is also decorated with multicolored lights. Once the scenery is ready, the images of the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph and the Baby Jesus are put in place. The Nativity scene also includes a donkey, an ox, an angel and some shepherds. Some people also display representations of the everyday life of that time, such as shepherds sleeping or taking care of their flocks and women bearing rustic pitchers for water or baskets full of food. They also display villages with houses and a variety of domestic animals; it is common to see pigs, goats, turkeys and cows.
It has been said that the representation of the Nativity scene dates from the 13th century and is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, a friar who was preaching in Italy. It was Christmas Eve of 1223 when, wearing humble clothes, he was surprised by a severe winter storm that obliged him to look for shelter in a chapel in Greccio. While he was meditating, he came up with the idea of representing the Nativity scene, so he constructed a small representation of the Nativity with straw and placed a manger in it. Later he borrowed an ox and a donkey from the inhabitants and invited some of the villagers to portray Mary and Joseph; other locals portrayed the worshiping shepherds.
Since that time, the reenactment of Baby Jesus’ birth became a tradition and spread across Europe, becoming very popular later in New Spain.
The Nativity scene at the Jardín
Until 2008, this representation was set up by traditionalist Genaro Almanza, who passed away in 2009. His daughter, Ángeles Almanza, commented that this tradition dates from 1939 and it was an idea of the then mayor Eulalio Nava, who also started the tradition of the public posadas.
Almanza commented that the first painted wood carving images were carved by the santero José Rodríguez, a student of Donato Almanza, Ángeles’ grandfather, who later handed over the sculptures to the Santa Anna church. But he did not want to lose the tradition, so in the middle of 1970 he asked for Genaro Almanza’s help to carve the current images at the Nativity scene in the Jardín. In 1978, Rodríguez passed away, but before that he had asked Genaro to preserve the tradition, as don Genaro did until he passed away. In 1984 live animals were added to the scene by traditionalist Rubén Villasana. Since 2009, Ángeles Almanza has been in charge of setting up the traditional public Nativity scene.
Almanza said that the nacimiento is placed yearly by the entire family. This year it will include only figures of the Holy Family and will be set up on December 20 and 21. The live animals will be added on December 24, when the parish priest of the parish of St. Michael the Archangel will lull Baby Jesus to sleep at 6pm.
A document published in 1995 by José Cornelio López Espinosa, then city historian, states that “this Nativity scene with living animals reminds us of another one where even Baby Jesús was represented by a real baby.” That nacimiento, according to the document “was memorable because of its originality and beauty. For the children it was unforgettable because of the candies.”
Check the whole calendar of events in the supplement Qué Pasa.
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.
In December 2006 New Line Cinema released the movie The Nativity Story. The film tells the story of a young Nazarene girl named María, whose family wished to find a good husband for her who would take care of her and allow her to have a respectable life. The movie tells how in that age Herod, the tyrannical king, imposed new taxes during the harvest season. For that reason, when a young man named José asked María to marry him, her family was in agreement. After the engagement notice, Gabriel the Archangel appeared to Mary in order to bring her good news: she had been elected by God to bear his son, who should be named Jesus. After that, The Nativity Story tells of the hard and risky path that Joseph and Mary had to take prior to Baby Jesus’ birth.
The movie also covers other aspects of the age, such as the adoration of the Magi and the persecution of King Herod. The film was directed by Catherine Hardwike and lasts 90 minutes. It stars Keisha Castle-Hughes as Mary and Oscar Isaac as Joseph. It was filmed in Matera, Italy.