By Pablo Jaime Sainz
Delia Ortiz needs just one more thing this Christmas: She needs to buy a little lamb figurine to put in the Nacimiento, or Nativity set, she has set up at home.
For this reason she has come to Mercado Miguel Hidalgo, in Tijuana’s Zona Río. She knows she can find all the gypsum figurines she needs for her “Nacimiento”, a Mexican tradition where people recreate the birth of Christ in a manger in Bethlehem.
The figurines, which are sold in mercados and outside churches in Tijuana, are colorful, and can be small or large, depending on how much money you want to spend.
Ortiz said she set up a medium size Nacimiento, where one can see the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, the Three Wise Men (Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar, as they’re called in Mexico), burros, horses, chickens, angels and shepherds.
“I remember when at home when I was little the whole family used to participate in setting up the Nacimiento”, said Ortiz, who was born in the state of Guanajuato and moved to Tijuana 20 years ago.
“Now I continue the tradition with my children and grandchildren. And to tell you the truth, although kids now and day have all those fancy Nintendo games and Power Ranger toys, they still have a little space in their hearts for traditional Mexican Nacimientos because they know that’s where our Lord was born.”
From the mercado owner’s perspective, Nacimientos mean good business during Christmas season.
At least that’s what Santiago Tiscareño said. He owns a figurine and piggy bank stand at Mercado Hi-dalgo, and he said that it is during this season that he has the best sales.
“People come here and buy everything from figurines for Nacimientos to the grass, hay and little corrals they used for the altars they make,” he said.
Prices vary, from simple figurines made of clay that can cost about a dollar each, to expensive and elaborate wood figures that are sold for up to 30 dollars.
But the most popular figure in a Nacimiento is Baby Jesus, which, according to tradition, isn’t placed in the Nacimiento until Christmas Eve, when the whole family reunites to have a posada, or traditional Mexican Christmas fiesta.
Rosita Prado is another person who keeps the tradition alive in Tijuana, even though she said her grandchildren prefer Santa Claus.
“Last year I set up the Nacimiento, a large one, with all the figures it needs, but my grandchildren barely put attention to it. This year I will set up another one, with more lights and figurines and hopefully they’ll be more interested in it”, she said.
Although many people think that the figures come from southern Mexico, most of them are actually made in Tijuana.
Oscar Ramírez owns a small figurine and piggy bank factory on his house patio. He said that many of the piggy banks sold at the border, and many of the figurines used in Nacimientos in Tijuana, were made at his factory, which he started more than 10 years ago.
“I learnt the trade from my father, who came from the state of Oaxaca. But times have changed and now we use clay and chalk mostly to make the figurines. We save time and money that way, and we can sell the products cheaper,” Ramírez said.
If one takes a trip around Tijuana, one can see public Nacimientos outside City Hall, in mercados, in malls, in swapmeets, and outside houses.
And although it is considered a Mexican tradition, Nacimientos actually began in 1223, in the town of Grecio, Italy. According to some Catholic records, it was San Francisco de Asís who began Nacimientos as a way to recreate the birth of Jesus Christ.