From early childhood we learn the meaning of the nativity and also enjoy displaying the pesebre, Belen, favela, comuna, natividad, posada, portal or nacimiento especially in Colombia where I am from.
History of the Nativity or Pesebre
In Hispanic America it all started in the XV and XVI centuries when the Franciscans and missionaries came to the new world determined to spread the Catholic faith. Christmas nativity sets are popular and revered in Hispanic culture. The missionaries made Christmas nativity representations in public places in each Latin American town that was occupied by Spain and Portugal.
Outdoor nativity scenes were widespread, in many cases with life size figures representing the birth of Jesus. The Catholic church promoted biblical representations of the Christmas nativity scenes in churches, plazas, and inside homes. People embraced the tradition making it stronger as the years passed.
The first one to make the Christmas nativity scene a tradition was San Francis of Assisi in the XIII century in Italy. The legend tells that on the year 1223 during a cold winter day San Francis was preaching, to escape from the cold he went to the Ermita de Greccio in Rieti. While St Francis was praying and reading the gospel of St. Luke he had the inspiration of reviving the mystery of the birth of Jesus.
St Francis went to build a house made with straw, placed a manger in the middle and brought a donkey and an ox. He invited a small group of folks to join him in reproducing the adoration of baby Jesus by the shepherds. This idea traveled throughout Italy, Spain and then to the rest of Catholic Europe to later come to America.
Setting Up The Nativity
For my family in Colombia this was a very important event that we started at the beginning of the Christmas season on December 7th. This is the day of the Immaculate Conception when we celebrate El Dia de las Velitas.
Throughout Latin America we normally have more than one nativity including a nativity for children. We start building the nativity sets at the start of the season and continue during the entire month.
In many countries throughout Latin America the tradition is that each day we can add something else to the Christmas nativity sets, and baby Jesus is not placed in the manger until December the 24th.
The main nativity can take a big space in the living room. In Colombia we place it where everybody can see it and where we can congregate to pray the Novena de Aguinaldos or Christmas Novena.
We try to use natural elements to build the nativity scenes. We use moss, tree branches, straw, etc. Children deeply enjoy gathering and placing elements to enhance el pesebre, and while they are doing it we play Hispanic Christmas music or villancicos.
Many artisans have a strong faith which serves as a fuel to keep carving and creating incredibly elaborate créches or nativities in Latin America. Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico and southwestern U.S. states are particularly prolific in the production of créches.
Types of Christmas Nativity Sets
Over the years Christmas nativity sets evolved and took more defined characteristics depending on the needs and tastes of the population. Here are some of the most representative.
Some small nativity sets are very convenient.
These sets below are all made in Latin America and are particularly representative of our regions, geography, physical characteristics and trade. They have real Sabor Latino, and bring to your Hispanic decor a touch of heritage.
Outdoor Nativity Set
Outdoor nativity sets are not new. They were very popular since the beginning of the representation of the nativity scenes because the Catholic church used them as a tool for spreading the faith. Many families place an outdoor nativity set in their fron lawns. Also churches and religious centers make big representations of the nativity, that serve in many cases as places to gather around for praying.
African Nativity Sets
African nativities are more common today. We are familiar with typical nativities portraying Anglo Saxon figures of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and two of the Three Wise Men, but today many families have mixed ethnicities or simply want to relate directly to the nativity story buy displaying an African nativity.
African Americans and black Hispanics may find African nativities to be their top choice. Artists like Thomas Blackshear are gaining more audience based on their representation of traditional caucasian scenes like the nativity with African looking characters.
Many African nativities are made in Africa with materials found primarily in African countries like Cameroon, Tanzania, Kenya, and Huganda where they use Terracotta Clay to make them. These are called Nubian, and more difficult to find.
Other African nativity sets are made in South Africa by weaving natural fibers. Black nativity scenes are becoming more common today, and more understandable so, knowing that we live in a society that encourages you to enjoy and preserve your heritage.
Nativity Sets for Children
In Hispanic culture, passing down our religious traditions is important, therefore since our children are small we involve them in the process of setting up the nativity. Teaching little ones our religious traditions while making it fun is essential for them to embrace Latino culture.
One of the best resources to do so is to use a nativity for children so they can manipulate and role play with the characters. Many people look for the Fisher Price nativity set for their children, I personally prefer nativity sets for children that give a more accurate representation of the time and that use materials like wood, resin, etc.
Christmas Nativity Sets from Latin America
Here are some Christmas nativity sets that you can add to your collection. They are beautifully made. I chose them because of their fine details. Regardless of which nativity you choose to represent your believes, it is important to remember this is the time of the year to reflect on our values, enjoy sharing with others and forgive. Also this is a perfect time to keep Hispanic traditions alive!