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Nativity scenes keep Christ in Christmas

Volunteer Jan Kunz puts together a Nativity scene at the Historic Old San Ysidro Church in Corrales, which is sponsoring a Festival of the Nativities this weekend. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — It was St. Francis of Assisi who in 1223 first publicly expressed dismay that the emphasis on Christmas was shifting to secular materialism and gift gifting and away from the miracle of Christ’s birth.

Among the smallest Nativity scenes on display is this one from Peru, constructed inside a walnut shell. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

According to some historical accounts, Francis set up a Nativity scene in a cave in the Italian village of Grecio, using live animals and people, and then invited the villagers to come and look upon it and ponder.

Over the centuries, the Nativity scene grew in popularity and spread. It is now an icon of the Christmas season, although different countries and cultures have differing portrayals of the manger as well as the individuals and animals who populate it.

Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 16 and 17, the Corrales Historical Society is hosting a Festival of the Nativities at the Historic Old San Ysidro Church in Corrales. Event coordinator Ellen Hatala said more than 100 Nativity scenes will be on display, mostly from around the United States, but also from other countries, including Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, China, Denmark, Germany, Guatemala, Ireland, Peru, Puerto Rico and Russia.

The Nativities vary in size from a few inches to a few feet tall and are made from a wide variety of materials.

Shining like a mirror, a Nativity from the Rogers Silver Co. is made from fired clay that is covered with sterling silver plating. A cement Nativity from Ireland features an archway resembling a pre-historic stone formation like those found throughout the British Isles. The offering from Germany depicts a manger shaped like an A-frame ski chalet.

Pandas make an appearance in a Nativity from China while llamas appear in a number of scenes from South American countries.

Debbie Clemente of the Corrales Historical Society places a baby Jesus in the arms of his mother Mary. More than 100 Nativity scenes will be on display this weekend. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

A Chilean Nativity depicts angels with a ring of flowers in their hair, a floral accessory that people still wear in the Easter Islands, while the Mary and Joseph characters are clearly Indian and the baby Jesus is swaddled in a cradling board.

Wooden Nativity figures from Denmark are actually candle holders, and a Bolivian Nativity is made from bread mixed with glue and painted over after hardening.

The tiniest Nativity scenes come from Peru. One is contained within a small matchbox, and the other inside a walnut shell.

The Festival of the Nativities will be in the setting of an old, historic church decorated with greens, tress and poinsettias. Multiple choirs will perform during the two-day event, as well as solo performers. Light refreshments will be provided.

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