Nacimientos, or nativities, are something that both Carlos and I grew up with. In my case, the nativity was a simple wooden manger scene with plastic figures: Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus in a bed of straw, an angel, the three wisemen, a cow, a donkey, a couple sheep and their shepherd. My mother always placed the nativity beneath the Christmas tree and my sisters and I were allowed to play with it just like we played with our Barbies or any other toys where we’d act out elaborate storylines while laying on the carpet, completely lost in our own imaginations.
In Carlos’s case, the nacimiento of his childhood took up a large area of their house during the Christmas season. The clay figures included all the same characters we had, plus many more. Salvadoran nacimientos often look more like a bustling city than an intimate scene. No figure is considered inappropriate, from a woman at a pupusería, national soccer players, politicians, drunks, Chavo del 8, and short-skirted cheerleaders with batons known as “cachiporras” to the devil himself.
Carlos’s childhood nativity sounds like a dream come true! I can only imagine how many hours my sisters and I would have played with such a scene – except that Carlos tells me that playing with it was absolutely not allowed.
Now that we’re grown and married with our own household, we put up our own nativity scene. The first year we bought it and put it up, we had an argument about baby Jesus. Carlos couldn’t understand why I put baby Jesus into the manger and I couldn’t understand why he kept taking it out and hiding it. Carlos says that in El Salvador, you don’t put El Niño Jesús in the manger until he’s born. What I was doing – displaying the complete scene with the baby weeks before Christmas – made absolutely no sense to him – (Although cheerleaders attending the birth of Christ apparently makes sense, but I digress.)
For a few years, although I thought it was weird, I let him hide baby Jesus. I also insisted that by his logic, the three kings should be hidden until January, but he ignored me. At this point I must have gotten used to his way of doing things because when I set up the nativity, I handed Jesus over to him without a word and watched him stick him behind a picture frame on a shelf.
This year I’ve tried to make our Nativity a little more Salvadoran. I added a house plant as a palm tree and some rocks from la Libertad, but I definitely want to buy some characters in the years to come. I like the idea of expanding the nativity to look like a town in San Salvador… as long as Carlos let’s me play with it.
What kind of nativity do you have? Do you allow your children to play with the nativity? Why or why not?
Other links to check out:
Los tradicionales nacimientos de barro – Youtube video from ElSalvador.com