Nacimientos: Traditional Mexican Nativity Scenes

Dec. 7, 2018

Dec. 7, 2018 @ 10:00 am Jan. 6, 2019 @ 5:00 pm

Mexic-Arte Museum

419 Congress Avenue
Austin, TX 78701 United States
+ Google Map
(512) 480-9373


Nacimientos: Traditional Mexican Nativity Scenes presents the custom of Nacimentos that survives in present-day Mexico as a visual amalgam of indigenous pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial representations. On display are handmade nativity scenes from the Museum’s permanent collection that are crafted from a variety of materials. These altars depict not only the customary manger, but a reflection of Mexico’s landscape, such as cacti, turkeys, and market scenes.

Christmas in Mexico is a vibrant and festive holiday season with a unique set of traditions that were formed by the blending of Spanish Colonial and indigenous Mexican cultures. The Aztec people of pre-Columbian Mexico paid homage to the birth of the god Huitzilopochtli during this time of year, with celebrations that began at midnight and continued throughout the following day. When Spanish colonialists brought the Christian faith to the Americas in the 16th century, missionaries noticed similarities between the Christian celebration of Christmas and the Aztec celebrations, facilitating the integration of Christianity into the lives of the indigenous people.

The tradition of setting up a manger can be traced back to St. Francis of Assisi. In 1223 A.D., it is said he journeyed to the Convent of Monte Colombo where he told a friend that he wanted to celebrate Christmas by creating a nativity scene as a reminder of the birth of Christ using a live donkey and ox. By the early 16th century when Spanish missionaries arrived in Mexico, the custom of setting up nacimientos, or nativity scenes, in churches and in private homes was already an ancient and well-established tradition in Europe. The European expression of the tradition reached Mexico via religious paintings and sculptures, which portrayed scenes of the nativity and other biblical events. When nativities were first introduced in Mexico, they were set up only in churches and other public places of worship, and it was not until decades later when it became more common to build them in convents and private homes. Today, the Mexican tradition of setting up a nativity scene retains its religious and spiritual significance. Each year on December 16th, nacimientos are set up in homes throughout the country.

As with many other art forms in Mexico, nativity scenes demonstrate the diversity and richness of is cultural ancestry. Perhaps more importantly, nacimientos capture the imagination and spirit of the people of this great country. To celebrate this tradition, Mexic-Arte Museum is pleased to present a variety of nacimientos from all over Mexico, including Oaxaca, Mexico City, Tonalá, Tzintzuntzan, Tlaquepaque, and other regions. The nativities in this exhibition are part of the Museum’s Permanent Collection, as well as have been generously donated and loaned by Edwin R. Jordan, Don and Polly Johnson, Daniel Miranda and the Consulate General of Mexico in Austin.