Homage to Nature and Faith, A Nacimiento in Every Casa

January 4, 2003

It is ten days before La Noche Buena…Christmas Eve.

The markets are transforming before our eyes as preparations for the posadas (the neighborhood visitations by candle light) and the making of nacimientos (home nativity scenes), are underway. Our shopping began at the Mercado San Juan de Dios in San Miguel de Allende where one can find the best and brightest booths (and the fairest prices).

First, the purchase of mosses, bromeliads and cactus will make the bed of our nacimiento. The vendors have gathered their offerings in the hills around San Miguel, and spritz them hourly with water so all will appear fresh and most appealing to shoppers, just like in the produce section of your local grocery store. Next, branches of fragrant fir or cedar are carefully selected from which angels, doves and a bright glittery comet will be hung. The presence of nature, the fragrances of the mosses, and the exotic bromeliads and lichens are all essential to the home nacimiento and nothing artificial will be considered, even in this rapidly changing country where Walmart, Santa Claus and artificial Christmas trees are readily available as never before.

In the market, the array of available figures is staggering and new figures are lovingly selected, saved, and passed on from year to year until the nacimiento of many families grows beyond enormity. There are camels, burros and lambs as expected-but turtles, roosters, sharks, ducks, and geese (?)…and lions and tigers and bears (oh my!). And wise men from every cultural add a further touch of the exotic. Although glitter, electric tree lights, glass ornaments, and any type of musical contraption with batteries may be included, Santa Claus is reserved for King's Day, January 6. The nacimiento exclusively depicts the birth of Jesus, albeit à la Mexicana.

With the proper makings of our nacimiento purchased, our search now turns to the perfect Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) piñata. In Mercado San Juan de Dios they make both a modern, all paper version, and the traditional version with a clay olla (pot) as the receptacle for the goodies.

In many booths the traditional star-shaped piñatas are being made right before our eyes, and we choose the brightest clay piñata imaginable. Although very heavy, large to fill, and a bit dangerous when all those pottery shards go flying…how can we resist?

While many gringos (myself included!) presume that piñatas are filled only with candy, this is not the case for Noche Buena. Tangerines, roasted peanuts, and sticks of raw sugar cane are expected, and naturally a few sweets (and a handful of pesos to ensure mad scrambling and screams of delight when all bursts apart) are the stuffings of a proper piñata.

The machete of the cane cutter moves with such precision and speed that we have all that is needed in mere seconds. The mountains of tangerines, peanuts and sweets are not only for the piñatas, but are also the traditional offerings to posada visitors searching for "a room in the inn" throughout the neighborhoods of San Miguel. Furthermore, the sugar cane will become part of the hot ponche (punch) traditionally enjoyed with tamales on Noche Buena.

La Noche Buena…
With the expert help of Frida, Pamela, Pedro and Ivan (all children of David Linares)-ages 2 to 13-our nacimiento is lovingly constructed in fine style, including an aluminum foil pond for our sharks and turtles. The glittery paper comet is hung above, and our zoo of plastic animals co-mingles with our pottery biblical figures from Oaxaca. All that is missing is El Niño, the Baby Jesus, who will be ceremoniously placed in the manger at midnight on Christmas Eve.

The fire is blazing, poinsettias fill the house, ponche is simmering on the stove, the sweet and savory tamales made by the nuns at the convent are steaming, and beans are bubbling as our friends, family and the children of artesan friends gather for our pre-midnight supper. And there is the sweet crackling of delicious bunuelos and syrup as Christmas approaches. As we count down to midnight, Ivan Linares (age 13) accepts the special privilege of placing El Niño in the manger…and all are joyous in these first exciting seconds of Christmas 2002 as abrazos are exchanged in our household, and the sounds of fireworks reverberating from every neighborhood can be heard outdoors.

This perfect evening ends with a stroll with family friends to the Jardin to see the glorious, life-size nacimiento complete with adorable baby lambs that delight the children.

The humble naciamento at Casa Hall awaits the Baby Jesus.

The sudden silence that blankets the Jardin is amazing, and in this moment our colonial town is so peaceful that it seems that we have all of San Miguel to ourselves. Feliz Navidad!


Thank you all for your patronage, support and friendship. I think we can speak for all the artesan families who benefit from your love of folk art and Mexico when we say, "Mil Gracias"!

By Debra Hall
ZOCALO Fine Folk Art
San Miguel de Allende, MEXICO
Pátzcuaro, MEXICO