This Is the Season of Nativity Scenes
By Jesús Aguado
“For your happiness and because you mean peace, we want to call you this, Christmas friend” observes a Christmas carol and it continues, “because when you are here, our eyes and skin smile.” Christmas is the season when people easily show their love, affection, solidarity, and compassion. With the excitement of baby Jesus’ birth, people exchange presents, hugs, atole, tamales, ponche, candies, and more because “‘is the season to be jolly.” This season is simply the time for love and meditation and the time to realize that “the Son came to light our whole world.”
In Mexico there are more than 20 million people, and according to information from the INEGI—National Institute of Statistics—eight of every ten people are Catholic. In Guanajuato, 96 percent of the inhabitants profess Catholicism. That is the reason why December 12—when Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated—is a holiday even though there is not a federal decree for it. Regardless, public institutions do not work nor do some private companies. It is also not unusual that in public schools the posadas are celebrated with a living mystery, using students to portray the pilgrims—Joseph and Mary—on their way to Bethlehem before the arrival of baby Jesus.
The celebrations are not shocking to anybody, not even for the federal, state, or local authorities who, when they are sworn in, make the commitment to respect the Mexican Constitution as well as the laws that come from it. The third article of the Mexican constitution states that education ought to be “free, obligatory, and secular,” yet the mix between religion and the government is so common that if we take a moment to look around, we can see a Nativity scene in the kiosk of the Jardín Principal, set up by traditionalist Ángeles Almanza. At the terrace of the Jardín, there is another colorful Nativity scene placed by the local authorities.
The first Nativity scene in Mexico and San Miguel
The Christmas season in San Miguel is marked by Nativity scenes. The showiest are set up in the churches. The date of the first Bethlehem—as a Nativity scene is also called—is uncertain. However, it is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, and it is believed that it may have been 800 years ago. The friar was in a mission in Greccio, a town in the province of Rieti, Italy. The friar was surprised by the celebration of the Nativity, and he had the idea of portraying the first living Nativity scene. With the natives, he constructed a small house with a portal and a manger inside. The happy Catholics lent their animals to make the event even more realistic; years later, statuettes for the event were constructed, and the tradition had its boom in Europe. The National Commission for the Development of the Indigenous Towns states that in the current Mexican Territory, from December 9 to 26, the birth of Huitzilopochtli (God of theSun) was celebrated before the Spanish conquest. The CDI also published that with evangelization, the friars instilled the tradition of the Nativity scenes in the country during the 16th century. The first Nacimiento in Mexico was placed in the current state of Mexico at the temple of St. Agustin of Acolman.
The current Nativity scene has been set up in the kiosk of the Jardín Principal since 1960. It was the idea of José Rodríguez, also known as “El Monero.” Since the beginning, it included life-sized sculptures of Virgin Mary, Joseph, and even of baby Jesus. The nacimiento also features live chickens, donkeys, sheep, and cows in a corral. After El Monero’s death, Genaro Almanza kept the tradition. Marisol Vidargas, a traditionalist, commented that the first sculptures displayed in the kiosk’s Nativity scene were financed by traditionalists Cruz Téllez, Alfonso Rodríguez, and Gabriel Vidargas, who donated the images to the Santa Ana church situated on calle Insurgentes.
This year, the scene will be set up on December 21 and will remain until January 7. The public posadas conclude before this nacimiento on December 24, around 7pm, where baby Jesus is rocked to sleep, and aguinaldos (bags with candies and cookies) are given to the attendees.
The nacimientos can be found everywhere in the city. They can be purchased with all the elements—pilgrims, animals, and adornment—at the Christmas markets located in the tianguis zone of the Ignacio Ramírez market, the market of San Juan de Dios, and Mercado de Guadalupe. The prices for a Nativity scene vary from 1,000 to 3,000 pesos, depending on the material and the size.
Among the most notable nacimientos is that of Anselmo Martínez on calle Insurgentes 103. Martínez told Atención that for as long as he can remember, his family has set up the Nativity scene, originally on calle Órganos. When he moved to Insurgentes, he wanted to keep the family tradition. His nacimiento includes figurines that he has been collecting for more than 30 years. They depict several chapters of Jesus Christ’s life.
Martínez comments that his family had a pharmacy, and he started making “small houses” with Styrofoam. “I remember that the first piece I made was a church, and my daughter helped me with her hair bands and “balls.” I used baby bottle nipples too for decorating the structure.” After 30 years, Martinez started constructing not just “small houses,” but whole villages that are available for sale. Those who visit Martinez’s village can look into the windows and see figurines of people feeding animals, fixing shoes, baking bread, and a representation of Joseph’s workshop where he is assisted by his son, Jesus. This year, the village includes King Herod´s castle, where he can be seen holding upside down a baby who is about to be murdered. This nacimiento is open to the general public daily from 9am to 7pm.
The remembrance of baby Jesus’ birth is celebrated differently at every home. Some families prefer organizing just a dinner and others decide to rock the Niño Dios at the end. In rural communities like La Talega—made up of migrant families that come back in December from the United States to celebrate the social and religious festivities—baby Jesus is rocked in each house, and in the most popular houses, there is live music for hours with mariachis and all kind of bands.
On the road to Guanajuato, there is a community called Cinco Señores that is made up of at least 15 families. Around 8pm all of them gather in the chapel to pray. After that they form two lines, and a couple in the front starts rocking the statue of baby Jesus while they sing “a la rorro niño, a la rorro ya.” Every couple on the line has to rock the image, and at the end, the statue goes back to the first couple. After this ceremony, the scene is replicated in every house until dawn. All the families attend.
Symbolism of the Nativity Figures
If you want to set up a nacimiento, these are some of the elements to have on hand:
Baby Jesus, the love that arrived on Earth to find shelter within the human heart
Joseph, representing obedience and strength turned into man
Mary, the understanding, kindhearted woman who is faithful and loves God
The angel, the living representation of love, mercy, and goodness
The manger, representing humility and simplicity
The ox, whose function is to keep baby Jesus’ crib warm, an example of how people should create an environment full of love and warmth in their homes
The donkey, the most loyal and humble of animals, selected to accompany Mary and Joseph through their journey
The three wise men, symbolizing royalty, worship, and sacrificial death through offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh
The shepherds, reminding us of the importance of helping and watching over others
The star, representing an endless and refreshing source of light that brings hope and illuminates the darkness