Nativity Scenes: A Snapshot of Oaxacan Culture

Nativity scene with three kings and other guests

Nativity Scene near the Pedestrian Mall in Oaxaca.

In Mexico people take pride and delight in constructing their annual nativity scenes. In the city of Oaxaca and I imagine many other cities throughout Mexico, the main city square is taken over by a huge nativity scene that stays up until after the 6th of January, Three Kings Day, on which Mexican children get a second round of gifts. Most nativity scenes, however, stay in place until February 2nd, the official end of the Christmas season. In Mexico February 2nd is known as the Día de la Candelaria. In English we refer to this day as Candlemas, or Candle Mass. Forty days after Christmas, the Candle Mass marks the day on which the Christ child is presented at the temple by Mary.

Picture of a Rosca de Reyes

An example of a Rosca de Reyes
Source: Hometown-Pasadena.com

The folk celebration of the Día de la Candelaria is celebrated in Mexico by a feast in which tamales are the traditional food. This event is preceded by the eating of the rosca de Reyes (a sweet flat bread with a hole in the middle) on January 6, Three Kings Day. Traditionally, there is embedded in the bread a tiny figurine of the baby Jesus. That person to whom falls the serving of bread containing the figurine then has the obligation of hosting the party on February 2nd.

So, at this writing, nativity scenes throughout Mexico are still in place. In the hotel at which I stayed recently, passersby would come in off the street to see the large and elaborate nativity scene in the interior courtyard. Nativity scenes, despite their serious religous side, often contain whimisical elements not directly related to the religious celebration. In the nativity scene above, and shown again  below, several personages from Oaxacan culture have found their way into the scene. While it is unlikely that any of these people were at the actual

nativity, it would be remiss at this point to eliminate them from the scene.

Nativity scene with annotations that identify some of the guests

Nativity Scene with Annotations

3 thoughts on “Nativity Scenes: A Snapshot of Oaxacan Culture

  1. Hi charles – I spent 6 months in oaxaca way back in 93, and this psot and the psot about Juan alcazar reminded me of those days – I look foward to looking through some of your other posts. Thanks

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