One of my favourite Christmas traditions is adopted from Latin America, though I don't do it quite right. Certain countries, notably Peru and El Salvador, have fantabulous Nativity scenes. They are often supplemented with additional characters that have nothing to do with the Nativity at all. In El Salvador, there is an entire museum devoted to these sets. One of my friends says that her Peruvian mother has a set that started out on the piano, but over the years has grown to dominate much of the living room.
This was my very first set, purchased in Recife, Brazil in about 1994. Note the giant chicken on the left side. A giant chicken is the mascot of Recife. There is a huge chicken statue in town, and it plays a prominent role in local carnival celebrations. On Saturday night of carnival, 1.5 million people follow the Galo de Madrugada band/dance group (the very late night chicken).
From left to right, there is a wooden set from La Palma, El Salvador, one inside a gourd, from Peru, and a Guatemalan set with all the figures in indigenous costume. La Palma is famous for its artisan community, which was founded by Fernando Llort in the 1970's. Llort is El Salvador's most well-known painter, who decorated the Metropolitan Cathedral and is often compared to Joan Miro. About 75% of the people in La Palma work in the arts, and most of their work is in the style of Llort.
The one on the left is made of corn husks, and is from Honduras. The one on the right is Peruvian, with all the figures in traditional costume.
Most of these are known as sorpresas, because the cover hides a surprise nativity scene inside. Thy are very popular in El Salvador. While I like the one with the very traditional colonial church, I am most amused by the blatantly commercial/non-religious sorpresas. The one on the back left did not photograph well, but it is sparkly carved white quartz from Peru. The tiny oval is carved from a single seed (from La Palma).
This one is also from El Salvador. It is nestled in a very traditional manger. The angel in back doesn't quite fit, but it is one of the additional characters that would normally surround such a manger.
Here are a few of the traditional additions. These are normally made in the town of Ilobasco, which is well known for its pottery. There is a mariachi band, a woman grinding corn on a metate (flat volcanic rock grinder) and a lady selling flowers. I wasn't able to acquire all the other pieces - bride and groom, old woman, funeral cortege, and vultures in a tree (the best ones are on springs, so they move around). The idea is to build an entire village scene.
The final set is almost boring and traditional in comparison, but I like it because it is considered an appropriate offical gift in El Salvador, but would be completely inappropriate in Canada. It was a gift from the Salvadoran foreign ministry. The sappy sweet faces remind me of Cabbage Patch dolls.