December 10, 2010

Manger Scenes

The typical Christmas looks a little different here in Paraguay than what we grew up with in the United States. For one, nobody is wearing coats or gloves or scarves. It's summertime, and we're in shorts and t-shirts and flip-flops. You won't see a spread of turkey and dressing or baked goods, but there's watermelon on every side and folks ARE passing around what amounts to fruitcake. They'll be sipping sidra (apple cider) and grilling out the week of Christmas.

There are hardly any trees or lights, but every home that can afford one has a pesebre, which is a manger scene. It's pretty close to ours, except that the wise men are almost always black, and the animals hanging out around Jesus are a bit different. For example, there are oxen and chickens and pigs. In the picture of the manger scene in the mall in Asuncion, see if you can pick out the chicken standing to the right of the angel. Something the girls get a kick out of, is that the animals are never to scale. The chickens in this particular scene were bigger than the oxen, but that adds to the character of it all. Most folks place a basket of fruit in there somewhere, as well as chipa (bread) hanging around the family like stars.

I have a bit of a struggle with mine, because I've ALWAYS had a manger scene. Well, here where idol worship is so prevalent, my little statuettes of the holy family and their visitors are looked on as un-Christian... imagine that! When we were in the US, I heard of struggles with Christians wanted to put their manger scenes up and were being opposed. But here the actual little statues are worshipped, rather than just used as a reminder of the "real" Jesus, and often more emphasis is placed on Mary or Joseph than the baby. So my scene last year offended some Christians, and I didn't come to offend. I totally get that, but to be honest, I'm having a hard time giving up the thing that most symbolizes Christmas-time for me. I tell you, there were years we didn't even put up a tree, but I've always had manger scenes scattered throughout the house. I could put it upstairs where our bedrooms are, but having it in the living area opens the door to talk about the original reason for the little reminder of Jesus' birth, and for a little education. Still, it's very ingrained in their culture that the little folks are not just decoration, they are to be worshiped. Here's a bit of trivia for you...

Saint Francis of Assisi, a twelfth-century churchman, is best known as the founder of the Franciscan Order of Friars. He is also credited with creating the very first nativity scene, as a way to convey the ideas of Christmas to an illiterate congregation.

In 1224, Saint Francis had the idea of creating a “living” recreation of the birth of Jesus, as a way to bring the Christmas spirit to the local villagers. It is believed that local shepherds, guarding their flocks outside the small Italian town of Greccio, inspired him. Saint Francis had real people dressed in biblical robes, and real animals positioned outside a cave on the outskirts of Greccio. In the manager was a life sized wax figure of the infant Jesus.

On Christmas Eve, families traveled far and wide to witness the spectacle. Saint Francis urged the people to rejoice in the season of Christ’s birth and put hatred from their hearts. Over time the presepio, as it was called in Italy, grew in popularity. Other towns began featuring them and soon people had individual nativity scenes in their own homes.

Read more at Suite101: Saint Francis of Assisi: Maker of the Christmas Nativity Scene

Any advice on this one? Feel free to comment (be nice, please)....


  1. I am on a roll: so here goes:
    well we are in the same boat!
    AND ... we are having our manger scene and using it to really share the gospel.
    We have a wooden carved one in the house and its been THE BIGGEST conversation starter with christians and non and the neediest of all - judgemental religious folks.
    We wont put Jesus out till 24th - We are still looking for a good one for outside and there are some creepy pesebres out there and alot of ungodly stuff going on - but
    I think its a great bridge builder - conversation opener and to have one and just not worship it is in itself a great testimony isnt it ??

    my advice and oh so wise counsel: its not sin to have a manger in same way its not wrong to wear a cross or paint a rainbow etc..even though they have all been used and abused. You can have your cake and eat it ! aka. enjoy your manger scene to the max !
    ( Disclaimer: if you get stoned or thrown into the dungeons for heeding this advice - it ain't my fault !) abrazos del este. marion x

  2. I wish Blogger allowed users to "like" or "thumbs up" comments. In the absence of such an option, I hereby and in so many words "thumbs up" Marion's comment. ;)

  3. We have a small Paraguayan wood nativity set in our sala. We use it to talk with people about customs, traditions and what's really important...the birth of Jesus Christ!

    So far, no one's thrown any stones.

  4. Here in Mexico many people feel the same way. But overall, some people have manger scenes, and some don't.

    We don't, at the moment, because of the impression it might leave on some people. But believe me, our Christmas celebrations are soaked through with the story of Christ's birth!

    After all, people did celebrate the coming of the Messiah just fine before the invention of manger scenes. :)


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