Treasures From Our Tradition

  Preview Weekly Bulletin for December 17th, 2017


Last week, we looked at a form of nativity scene called a presepio, characterized by framing the crèche of Jesus with a vast array of personalities and a rich geographical context. The tradition was carried to the New World, and finds very rich expression in Latin America today. While in Europe the presepio was reserved mostly to the homes of wealthy nobles and great churches, in Latin America it was claimed by the poor and expressed the skills of native artisans. In Mexico, you can still find clay figures in every village market. In a way, the native people took the religion of Spanish rule and baptized it with their Indian culture by surrounding the crib of Jesus with local geography and people. In Brazil, where Christmas falls in summer, the figure of the baby Jesus is wrapped in gold and gems, and set on a hillside surrounded by flowers and animals of all kinds. Sometimes there is a double presepio, presenting both Nativity and Crucifixion.

In some places in Latin America, even non-religious people take care to have a presepio in the home, sometimes dedicating one whole room in the house or apartment to the scene. Some cities have markets where people from the countryside sell plants and figurines. In Cuzco, churches and families provide hot chocolate for the children of the poor who come down to help create the nativity scenes. In Paraguay, the baby Jesus grows—the small infant who arrives on Christmas Eve is replaced at New Year with a toddler Jesus who holds in one hand the globe and in the other a cross. Few Christmas traditions have the vitality and variety of presepios and crèches honoring the Nativity.

—Rev. James Field, Copyright © J. S. Paluch Co.