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Spotlight On: A Series on Culture & the Arts

“Spotlight On” is XelaWho‘s regular monthly series on all things cultural & artistic in Xela and Guatemala. The topic for December 2009 is: Nativity Scene Traditions in Guatemala.

Spotlight On: Nativity Scene Traditions by Diana Pastor

In several Latin American countries, it is a custom to create a nativity scene in December to celebrate the Christmas season. These scenes are a type of altar featuring small statues of people, animals and objects that re-create the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem on the 25th of December. The statuette of Jesus, or “the Christ Child” is important for both the nativity scene and another ritual that takes place in the New Year when his clothing is changed.

The “Christ Child’s vestments” are special clothes that are placed on the statue of Jesus in nativity scenes in both homes and churches. They are made of wool or other fabrics whose size ranges 10-40 cm. Some are very sacred, simple and generally white with little adornment. Meanwhile, others represent the latest fashion trends in fabrics and colors, utilizing colors like orange and red and sporting lace, tulles and attention-grabbing details. The styles vary according to the preferences of the person.

There are some people who have more than one statuette of Jesus in their nativity scenes. My family and I have been producing and selling these Christ Child vestments for several years during the Christmas season. We have had clients with more than 6 Christ Children who order vestments in ‘mass production’ – each of the same color and same style.

It is unclear when this tradition first started. In Mexico it is celebrated in March. In Guatemala, the baby Jesus is undressed at night on December 24th, and he remains this way until the 31st of December at 11:59 p.m. when he is given his new vestment. Changing the clothing year after year is to give him an offering that commemorates an additional year of his birth. For this reason, some people don’t mind spending a lot of money on his vestment since it demonstrates something very beautiful and honorable for Jesus.

Some might ask why one would put feminine-style clothing (which is how it looks) on Jesus rather than masculine-style? The answer is simple. Originally the vestments were tunics that represented the ancient clothing that was used in Bethlehem during the time of Jesus. However with the passage of time, these tunics have transformed into a style more modern and fashionable.

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