Ride down any street this time of the year, and one is sure to find Santa Claus in just about every shape and form.
But that’s not what you’ll find at the home of Consuelo Morales in the City of San Fernando.
At the entrance to Morales’ home, along the 500 block of Griswold Avenue, one finds the true meaning of Christmas — a very large Nativity scene in a makeshift shelter, with real hay and multicolor string lights.
“I’ve always liked to have one in front of my house,” said Morales, 63.
Morales once had a smaller display at her previous home, but three years ago she saw the ensemble she has now. She started saving, bought it a year later and it adorns her house.
Son-in-law Alejandro Dueñas added a protective shelter so the display won’t get wet if it rains.
Morales said she can’t think of it being Christmas without a Nativity scene, something she taught to her five children and is trying to pass on to her five grandkids.
“I try to teach the family our traditions,” says the native of Nochistlan, in the Mexican state of Zacatecas. “I like to teach my grandkids the tradition of the Baby Jesus, what you really celebrate.
“Here, everything is Santa and the gifts. But the real celebration is the birth of Jesus.”
St. Francis of Assisi is credited with starting the tradition of the Nativity scenes. He had a special devotion to the child Jesus, and created the first one in 1223 after visiting the Holy Land.
According to “The Life of St. Francis of Assisi” by St. Bonaventure, a Franciscan monk who was born five years before Francis’ death, St. Francis got permission from Pope Honorious III to set up a manger with hay and two live animals — an ox and a donkey —in a cave in the Italian village of Grecio.
He then invited the villagers to come gaze upon the scene while he preached about “the babe of Bethlehem.” Bonaventure also claims that the hay used by Francis miraculously acquired the power to cure local cattle diseases and pestilences.
The idea caught on quickly, and in 1291 the first Franciscan pope (Nicholas IV) commissioned statues to create the first permanent Nativity scene in the Roman Basilica of St. Mary Major. Since then Nativity scenes in all shapes and sizes have been created throughout the world, and is one of the most popular Christmas traditions.
A Live Nativity Scene
Just like in the times of St. Francis of Assisi, the Community Christian Church of the Foothills in Tujunga has been putting on a live Nativity scene for more than 15 years.
The two-night display, which took place Dec. 14 and 15, featured three scenes: the shepherds being told the good news about the birth of Jesus; the middle scene depicting the manger; and the final scene with the Three Kings bearing their gifts for the son of God.
All scenes included live actors, live animals and even angels. It is a popular Christmas display that attracts hundreds of visitors who can either drive through or walk.
Morales and her husband, Pablo don’t limit themselves to putting up a very large Nativity scene.
Every year they open their home to family and friends for the traditional Posada, a nine-day celebration that mixes religion and revelry previous to Christmas. The nine days are said to represent each of the pregnancy months of the Virgin Mary.
Every day, a different family and house organizes the celebration.
On Dec. 15, dozens of friends and neighbors gathered at the Morales’ home for the celebration.
It began with small children — Morales’ grandkids — dressed as Mary and Joseph leading a procession around their neighborhood. Everyone holds a candle, prays the rosary and sing Christmas carols in Spanish.
They end up back at Morales’ home, where the crowd sings at the front door asking for shelter. People inside respond by first denying entry, then allowing them in. (They had asked for shelter at another neighbor’s home but they were not allowed in, all part of the re-enactment.
The scene is a re-enactment of Joseph and Mary seeking shelter on the eve of Jesus’ birth, a tradition that occurs yearly all across Mexico.
After some more prayers, everyone gets to enjoy food and drink and a good time.
Ramiro Avelar, Morales’ younger brother, was one of the revelers at the house.
“In Mexico, we always had them,” he remembered. “I brought (my kids by) so they’d know what the Posadas are all about.
“They think (Christmas) is just about the presents, but they don’t know what Christmas is really about,” said Avelar, adding he drove in from Bakersfield and was attending the celebration for the first time.
It’s why it’s important to keep these traditions like these alive, said Dueñas said.
“My parents taught me about being at church, all these traditions and it’s something I have within me,” he said.
“It’s our tradition and it shouldn’t get lost.”