Mexican Nativity Scene now on display at the Greensboro Free Library
The new exhibit at the Greensboro Free Library is a Mexican-style nativity scene, collected and displayed by Gina Jenkins. She and her husband Tom Anastasio, have spent the past five winters in Mexico where they enjoyed a wide variety of “nacimientos” that are an important part of Mexican Christmas tradition.
Nacimientos are folk art dioramas that celebrate the birth of Jesus and reflect a legacy of indigenous artistic and ritual practices. They can be found in family homes, public squares, bus stations, and churches. They can be miniature or life-size, filling a table, room, or park. Christmas markets sell a wide variety of figures as well as 'props', including buildings, trees, clay pots, wagons, and fences, and street vendors sell moss as the basis for the construction of these scenes. Many incorporate lights and running water for waterfalls and streams.
These scenes are constructed in mid-December and are not taken down until February 2, the Day of Purification when the Christ child was presented in the church. It is traditional to add the baby Jesus to the scene on December 25, and then the Magi, or Wise Men, arrive at the stable on January 6, riding a camel, an elephant, and an Arabian stallion, representing different Eastern countries. The idea of Santa Claus is relatively recent in Mexico, and most children still receive their gifts from the Wise Men. Some lucky children receive gifts from both. The Magi's gifts are put in the shoes that the children leave out for them, or the gift may be a new pair of shoes.
These scenes are often a complex and unique melding of pre-Hispanic and Catholic traditions. In 15th century Mexico, Catholic missionaries baptized native Mexicans into the church in the tens of thousands. Former temples were torn down and Catholic chapels, and later churches, were built in the same location. The native people substituted praying to saints instead of gods of water, earth, and air. However, the original beliefs were never fully replaced but were adapted into Catholic teachings. For instance, many Aztecs adopted the view that Mother Mary was a representation of Tonantzin, the goddess of fertility, represented as a rabbit. Rabbits represent sexuality, fecundity, the moon, and rebirth in religions around the world. Come look for the rabbit in the nacimiento.
See how another country tell the Christmas story. These scenes currently on display at the Greensboro Free Library, 53 Wilson Street, Greensboro, VT until February 2nd – the Day of Purification.