At this time of year, you can’t pass a window or a storefront without stopping to admire the Nativity scenes. One of the charms (this time of year, at least) of houses that are right up against the sidewalk, is that you are practically walking in your neighbor’s living room. You learn not to casually glance to the right for fear of invading someone’s privacy.
Except for now.
Residents and businesses put their Nativities in the front windows for all to admire, reflect upon, and appreciate the aesthetic spectrum. The Nativity is an expression of art as much as an expression of devotion or mythos appreciation.
Some stick to text, starting with a bare manger, perhaps a cave, an open wooden shed, or a stable. Mary and Joseph and the guiding angel are added, along with a menagerie of animals, lending the warmth of their bodies and breath to the spare setting.
Soon arrives the baby in swaddling clothes. Quickly the shepherds, who have evaded the temptations of the devil enter the scene with their flock, usually represented by no more than a half-dozen sheep.
Sticklers for the text await until January to place the three Wise Men or kings bearing gifts.
I’m a fan of putting out the whole manger scene at once and letting the story unravel in my mind over the course of the holiday.
The one creche I await eagerly every year is the city’s “official” manger scene built up around the gazebo in the Jardin Principal, just across the plaza from the magnificent towering Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel and the also towering community Christmas tree.
The park and surrounding plaza have already been decorated in shimmering tin stars and magical fairy lights in anticipation.
And now the life-size creche is here. It is a glorious mix of creche, kitsch, and culture.
There is Mary in pink and blue, across the empty hay bale from Joseph who bears a lily on a staff. Behind them is the Warrior Arcangel Saint Michael and before them an array of lambs and ewes, a little shepherd boy, and a scattering of cherubs. High above all, in a cloud, is God himself, looking down approvingly on the scene below.
There are a couple of ladies-in-waiting who will soon attend to the birth. One seems to be sounding the alarm over the presence of a most grotesque manifestation of the Devil, off to one side of the manger scene. In Mexican religious culture and celebrations, the Devil is never far away. He lurks in the shadows, he brings up the end of processions, he is always present — a stark reminder that temptation requires vigilance.
There is also a scattering of squirrels and bunnies, to add a Disney-esque quality to it all. On the side opposite the Devil, a bearded fellow with a staff sits in his Man Cave — perhaps it is John the Baptist, awaiting the word so that he may go forth and herald the arrival of the newborn king?
You can spend all day contemplating this scene as it continues to grow to manifest the unraveling of the Christmas tale.
On Christmas Eve, the “Posada navidena” arrives at the Jardin at 6:30 p.m. There will be crowds and singing and prayers as Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus arrive to great celebration. As the ceremony ends, families quickly retire to their homes to celebrate the holiday with friends, neighbors, and kin.
It is a beautiful moment in religious life, Mexican culture, and the magic of San Miguel de Allende.
Put more magic in your life!
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