Guatemala LOVES nativity scenes!
Volcanoes, lakes, mountains, sheep, and ceramic figures of Maya villagers are all part of Guatemalan nacimientos in many homes throughout the country today. Catholic youth groups join in creating nativity scenes around church altars– many with colonial sculptures of the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph and a paper-mache ox and donkey. The Three Wise Men are side by side local huts – ranchitos – with colorful paper scenario displays showing elaborate landscapes. The baby Jesus is placed in the manger at midnight on December 24th when Guatemala celebrates Christmas with lots of fireworks!
Nativity scenes have been a tradition for centuries. St. Francis of Assisi created the first nativity scene, known as Italian presepes, in Greccio, Italy in 1223 with the assistance of a local landowner, Giovianni Delita or Velita. Adopted in Spain with elaborate figures sometimes made out of gold, ivory and detailed carved woods, the first nacimientos were brought to Guatemala with the conquerors after 1524. Santo Hermano Pedro de San José de Betancur promoted this tradition here in 1625.
Today these are all works of art and great fun to enjoy at Christmastime! Enjoy those at San Francisco, San José Catedral and La Merced. This year, for the first time, a special nacimiento has been created inside the ruins of the Cathedral by their Patrons. Open daily from 9am to 5pm with a small admission, it is also open Friday and Saturday night from 5pm – 9pm (3a Avenida entrance).
Proceeds benefit this restoration project. Another very special nacimiento is open to the public at the Obras Sociales del Santo Hermano Pedro (3a Avenida & 6a Calle). Created by the patients who benefit from this amazing foundation, it is a well- known local tradition to visit and leave a donation for this project which helps the most needy in Guatemala. Happy holidays!