What Do Mexican Nativity Sets Have That Mine Doesn’t Have?

my nativityGrowing up in Wisconsin, our nativity set looked a lot like the one at left.

In Mazatlán, most of the nativities (nacimientos) do include these basic items that I grew up with — Mary and Joseph, the baby Jesus, shepherd and sheep, 3 kings, a camel, a donkey, an angel. But they also include a WHOLE lot more!

Here, nativities always seem to have turkeys. Why? Because we eat pavo on Christmas? Mazatleco nacimientos also seem to always have chickens.

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And a well. Almost every Mazatleco nativity we’ve seen has a well. Again, why? Because Jesus asked a lady for water at a well, like, 30 years AFTER he was born? The wells are pretty. People did need to drink.

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The nativities I grew up with had pine trees. I always thought that was a little weird. As a kid I imagined that where Jesus lived, maybe palm trees would have grown, but pine trees? Well, Mazatleco nativities have cacti. Lots of different kinds of cacti.

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The shepherds in Mazatlecan nativities often wear sombreros. And they may carry tropical fruits. Or beans. Traditional Christmas foods. They may be miners. Or carry really heavy loads.

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Mary and Jesus may have a comal alongside the manger, for cooking fresh tortillas for all those visiting kings.comal

There are usually a lot of tropical birds in a Mazatleco nativity, and often times a waterfall or water feature. We do live on the ocean, after all. And we are blessed with loads of gorgeous water fowl.

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A nativity here might not be complete without a burro carrying beer, or a lady handing out avocados. Christmas is a cause for getting together with family and friends and celebrating, that’s for sure.

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There are often barnyard animals in a nativity here, including cows, pigs, and geese.

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And, usually, the nativity includes a devil. Sometimes one, sometimes quite a few. The nativities I grew up with included lots of angels, but never, ever a devil.

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Nativity sets here grow so large, over several generations, that many of them become small cities filled with people doing all sorts of different things. Nacimientos are yet another reason to LOVE Mazatlán! 😉

Dia de los Reyes / Three Kings’ Day


After all the fiestas decembrinas or parties in December: the posadas of every group and neighborhood to which you belong, as well as the Christmas and New Year’s festivities themselves, it might be logical to think that most Mazatlecos would be anxious to take a rest from partying. After all, Carnavál/Mardi Gras is not far off, and we all need to be in party shape!

Well, not so quickly! Before you take down the pinito or put away the crêche, we need to be sure to celebrate Epiphany or 12th Night, which in Latin America is of course called Día de los Reyes. This holiday commemorates the visit of the three magi, Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar, to the infant Jesus in Bethlehem. It falls on January 6.

The night before, January 5, is when most Mexican kids hope for a gift. Gifts from Santa are not a traditional custom here, though they are growing in popularity. But gifts from the 3 Kings are enormously popular. Most children will put out their shoes to be filled with candies and gifts, as well as a dish with food for the kings’ camels. Many families buy gifts to donate to needy children this time of year, and many public parties or community events such as Juguetón are held, with entertainment and drawings for gifts and prizes.

The evening of January 6 then becomes an excuse to brew some hot chocolate, eat rosca de reyes (a ring of bread-like cake with one or more miniature dolls baked into the batter), and get together with family and friends to maybe play a few games of lotería or dominoes.

Careful, though! The people who get the monito, the small doll, in their piece of the rosca “get” to host the party and bring the tamales on February 2, Día de la Candelaria or Candlemass, 40 days after Christmas, the day when Jesus would have been taken to the temple.

Thus, we have at least one more Candelaría party to look forward to before Carnavál begins on February 16!