The Osorio family -- residents in the City of San Fernando, have been setting up an elaborate Nacimiento in their San Fernando home for six decades to express their faith and Christmas family tradition that began in their ranch town in Zacatecas, Mexico. (Photo by SFVS/ML Torres)

Amid twinkling lights and bookended by festive Christmas trees, a special collection of religious figurines – featuring both family heirlooms and new additions – has been painstakingly arranged to depict the nativity story, adorning the family room of a San Fernando house from wall to wall and floor to ceiling.

The beautiful, ornate “Nacimiento” (which refers to the birth of Jesus) can be found in the home of Gloria Osorio and her family every Christmas season. The decorative annual display highlights the three key elements of the Christmas story – starting with Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, followed by Jesus’ celebrated birth in a stable and concluding with the family’s flight into Egypt.

“Santa comes in, but he always bends and worships baby Jesus [in the nacimiento] first,” said Osorio. “There’s nothing wrong with exchanging Christmas gifts, and there’s nothing wrong with Santa – it’s all beautiful – but for us faith is the focus.”

Gloria Osorio

Creating the Nacimiento has been a beloved yearly ritual of religious and cultural significance in Osorio’s family for six decades. Her parents began the tradition in their ranch town in Zacatecas, Mexico, shortly before relocating to the U.S. “Our family has been doing the Nacimiento for over 60 years. It’s been in our family forever and ever,” recounted Osorio, who is a retired teacher and parishioner at St. Didacus Catholic Church in Sylmar. “Our grandparents instilled [their beliefs] in our parents, and when we came here they continued the tradition.”

Osorio grew up as one of nine children. Although she has lived in the United States since she was four years old, her connection to her Catholic faith and her Mexican cultural heritage has always remained deeply ingrained.

Photo by SFVS/ML Torres

“Our grandfather was huge in the faith – he was raised by priests – so his faith was everything to him,” she explained. “That’s why it became so important to us, too.”

Displaying the Nacimiento goes hand in hand with her large family’s annual celebration of “Las Posadas” (which means “the inns” or lodging), a nine-day observance of the Christmas story traditionally held in parts of the U.S., Mexico and other select Latin American countries from Dec. 16 through Dec. 24.

Over the nine days, a gathering is held at the home of a different family member every night. As part of each gathering, participants form a procession and emulate requesting lodging, the way Mary and Joseph sought shelter prior to Jesus’ birth. 

Gloria Osorio (Photo by SFVS/ML Torres)

The posadas include prayer, song, food and conclude with the delightful breaking of a piñata. On the final night, Osorio’s extended family gathers at her home – which has been the site of the family’s Nacimiento for 15 years – where she resides with her husband and adult son.

“We do the posadas for nine nights because that’s how many days Joseph and Mary were looking for posada [shelter],” said Osorio, who also has two grown daughters who participate in the festivities with their families.

Osorio said she decided to be interviewed by The San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol about her family’s devotion to the yearly Nacimiento display and the posadas because “nothing could give me greater joy than to honor my parents in that manner.” Her parents have both passed away.

Osorio said she hopes to continue encouraging both the love of the faith and their rituals among her youngest family members. To that end, they use the posadas as fun teaching opportunities for the children, and they select two kids to lead the procession and other aspects of each posada dressed up as Mary and Joseph.

One specific element of her family’s version of their traditional posadas that Osorio holds particularly dear is related to her parents’ birthplace: the posada song they sing during their gatherings. She explained that the song most commonly heard is “Las Posadas,” which describes the Holy Family seeking shelter and repeatedly being turned away.

“You will not hear that song [at our family posadas] because we are from a ranchito in Zacatecas,” she said with a smile. She considers the melody of their posada song “is a lot more difficult to sing, but my mom said, ‘That’s what we’re singing!’”

To emphasize that it is more challenging rather than the version others sing, Osorio broke out into song with the closing lyrics:

Abranse las puertas, rompanse los velos, que viene a posar el rey de los cielos.” (“Let the doors be opened, let the veils be torn, for the king of heaven is coming to rest.”)Because Osorio and her eight siblings all settled in or near the Los Angeles area – and because many of their children and grandchildren also live locally – during typical years anywhere from 40 to 120 family members have participated in the nightly posadas, with the biggest turnout on Christmas Eve. On that final night, a family member dresses up as Santa Claus and distributes gifts to the children.

“Santa comes in, but he always bends and worships baby Jesus [in the Nacimiento] first,” said Osorio. “There’s nothing wrong with exchanging Christmas gifts, and there’s nothing wrong with Santa – it’s all beautiful – but for us, faith is the focus.”

Even during the height of COVID, the family traditions continued, but with modifications, recalled Osorio. As a health precaution, they took a hiatus from in-person posadas and switched to virtual celebrations. But Osorio kept creating the Nacimento in her home without fail – down to the usual intricate details.

“We zoomed our posadas and I made the same Nacimiento and nobody came inside the house,” said Osorio, and that was okay with her. “I said, ‘The Nacimiento will always go up; I will never let it die. And we will have the posadas, even if they’re zoomed.’ So there’s never been a break in those traditions. And this year is actually the first time we’re finally starting back with [in-person] posada celebrations.”

This year, Osorio is excited to finally welcome her family back into her home to share the Nacimiento which she joyfully recreates every year with the help of a few loved ones. As figurines, lights and decorations are unwrapped, older fraying or broken pieces are either repaired or retired and replaced as needed. Completing the display can take as little as three days to as long as two weeks. And she carefully and lovingly puts away every item at the end of each Christmas season which concludes on Jan.6, The Feast of the Epiphany -Three Kings Day which is the 12th day of Christmas when Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar -traveled to Bethlehem to bring gifts to baby Jesus of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Children are presented with a gift. 

For Osorio, her family’s long-held traditions are about “letting the world know that Jesus is coming soon.” And, of course, about celebrating together as a family. “I’m so grateful to my parents, for instilling the faith in us,” she said. “Also, for instilling our culture, our love of language, and our love of gathering as a family.”