Friday, December 17, 2010

Where NOT to Buy a Cheap Nativity Scene

Our Nativity Scene
This Christmas, because of tight time and a tight budget both resulting from the recent birth of my son, my wife and I decided to keep the Christmas decoration and festivity and decoration simple.  Tomorrow we are having a turkey dinner with our parents who are visiting, and some of our closest friends.  The decoration is a sparkly, green piƱata, which is currently hanging quite decoratively in our living room, and a nativity scene; yes, we've abandoned the Christmas tree and garlands for this year, deciding to focus on the principal meaning of Christmas. We had been planning on advent candles and wreath, but missed this part since our baby was born just at the beginning of December.

Inspired by the limited budget and my love for the Mexican market places, I did what I always do when I want something good and cheap; I went to Colosio.

Colosio is Playa del Carmen's original working-class neighborhood which was build up from a politically motivated land invasion almost 20 years ago, and deserves several posts all to itself.  I arrived to the community's central market (the only one in Playa) by bus and soon found several nearby stores which sold all the necessities for a nativity scene; a simple wooden "stable" structure with thatched roof (I choose one that's about 50 cm x 30 cm, or about 24" by 15" - these are both very rough guesses), the green leafy stuff they put at the bottom and the figures of Baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the 3 wise men, a shepherd, a sheep and a cow.

My son and I setting up the Nativity Scene
After selecting the stable and leafy matting, I was about to take the smaller versions of the figures, when I noticed that Joseph was wearing black eye liner, with a very pale and sad face.  I looked at Mary, and realized that she was similarly grim.  The model of baby Jesus was not particularly joyful either.

Immediately I remembered the Christmases I spent in Mexico City and the tradition of rocking a baby Jesus doll on Christmas Eve, singing songs, then kissing the doll and asking for wishes.  While I have no objections to the tradition itself, I always found the way the doll looked rather disturbing, with a very pale and serious adult face, with semi-long wavy hair and dark around the eyes, on a infant's body.  Not exactly how I imagine Christ as a child.  While I assume not all the dolls are quite like this, I have seen plenty of these grim-faced Baby Jesus dolls around stores and market places - particularly in working class areas.  These were the same dolls that were being sold for the nativity scene, except smaller.  On top of the grimness, the colours were rather gaudy.  Purely out of curiosity I asked for prices, only to realize that they were actually on the pricey side (relative to what I expected in Colosio.)

Disappointed by the look of the miniatures (not the prices) I took my manger and hay and moved to the next store to find a different set of dolls, but just as grim, if not more so.

A Close-up of the Figures of the Holy Family
I had already been to the supermarkets (Walmart, etc.) since they were on the way, only to find out that they had pretty much sold out, and only had rather cartoonish looking characters that were over-priced (perhaps less-so than in Colosio, however.)  So I remembered a store that sells supplies for handicrafts and seasonal ornamentation.  I went across town to find out that they didn't have anything, but that the supermarket around the corner did (a Mexican store called Chedraui.)

Luckily, I found a nice porcelain set of suitably sized figures in that store.  I bought them, along with a string of LED lights, and that evening my 3-year-old son and I set up the scene.  He was thrilled.  He probably wouldn't have noticed the difference in the figures, but I know I would.

As for the figures I didn't buy, I assume the gaudiness is just the particular taste of the kind of clients who live and buy there.  But I really wonder if their is some real significance of the grimness and paleness of the figures.  Any answers would be appreciated.

(Sorry, I don't have pictures of the ones I don't like.)

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