Posted by: ktzefr | December 20, 2011

Telling the Christmas Story…in clay and paper, wood and stone

“For unto us a child is born…”

Creche, Peru; Photo:KFawcett

Creche, Peru; Photo:KFawcett


Handel’s “Messiah” is playing as I write, the same record I’ve listened to at Christmas for almost thirty years — the 1982 “Messiah” by The Westminster Choir and the New York Philharmonic.  It’s a tradition; the old record still sounds terrific, scratches and all.

I like traditions.  Sometime back I started collecting creches.  It wasn’t a conscious decision, really.  I happen to enjoy traveling in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the nativity scenes, from the miniscule to the enormous in various mediums, are available everywhere and sold all year long.  They make them in Peru, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Costa Rica….  So, I started picking them up.  Here are some favorites.  Most of these fit in the palm of my hand.  Like the one above and this one.


In Hispanic cultures the meaning of the nativity is learned in early childhood.  Most homes have a creche and some can be very elaborate.  Families start building their nativity scenes at the beginning of the Christmas season and continue to work on them, adding new pieces daily throughout the month. In some cases the baby Jesus is not added until December 24th.  My friend Mirella’s family gives their nativity set a prominent place in the living room for everyone to see.  Theirs is complete with wise men and saints, camels and various other animals, and angels that “fly” above the manger.   Our own regular-sized set (as opposed to the mini ones pictured here) is not nearly as elaborate, but the farm animals come from a toy farm set I got for Christmas when I was a child.  


This creche carved from stone is unique in that the “stable” is a set of praying hands.


I like the scalloped shape (almost like the scallop shell) of this one…



I do love the simple ones with clay figures…



The church with the bell tower and doves on the roof is pretty common in Latin American markets.   The little blue church is copper; I bought it years ago for my mom when I was hurrying through the airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico enroute home.  The Peruvian tapestry in the background is also a creche scene.




Some creches from Latin America are extraordinary works of art, such as those from Mexico’s Formento Cultural Banamex collection and other private collections owned by individuals and universities.  Many of those figures are quite valuable.  Mine are not.  But I like folk art, and I love meeting local crafts people at markets and fairs and plazas when I travel.  Spend some time at the local market in any Latin American country and you can learn a great deal about the soul of a place and its people.



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