Feliz Navidad

A Cautionary Tale

This is what your nativity (nacimiento) might look like if you wait until the last minute…like the last few hours of Christmas Eve, to buy the elements that make up your manger.


I was lucky to even find a baby Jesus…not to mention his mom and dad…

Purchased at two separate street stalls many blocks apart, I found Santos Maria y Jose together, and a Nino Jesus all by his lonesome mixed in with a big pile of random farm animals.


For weeks, the street stalls have been set up, lined with all manner of proper manger items: The Holy Family, The Three Wise Kings, camels and plastic palm trees, many lambs, sheep and angels. Stuff I remember from the nativity scenes of my childhood back in the Michigan and Chicagoland.

Here in Oaxaca, there were some figures I hadn’t seen before, that frankly, I was eager to assemble into my 3D assemblage: belly dancers with gold coins around their waists, Mexican-style burros and donkeys laden with Mexican-style mini-serapes and tiny woven baskets on draped over the blankets like bicycle paniers, giraffes, elephants, reindeer (not your classic middle east desert animal, but so what), brightly colored chickens in all sizes, even more brightly colored dancers in floor length regional Mexican dresses…you get the idea.


My intention was to photograph all of these stalls when my friend Julianne came to visit for our annual Bachelorette Christmas. But…we ended up doing and not doing all sorts of things on our itinerary. All deserving of a separate post.

There were days of horrible tummy troubles involved. We strayed not too far from the bathroom in my apartment. That’s all I’ll say about that, I promise.


In other words: we never made it to these festive DIY nativity-making stalls.

I only dragged myself out of my apartment and away from the safety of my bathroom late Christmas Eve. And that was mostly because after many days of no appetite and feeling like crap (no pun intended) all I wanted to eat was a giant bowl of Mexican hot chocolate and a big roll of the bread they serve with it. So…I ventured to the market with my camera.


Only to find the battery on my iPhone was a sliver of red. Dead. And I was too weary to go all the way back home and still hadn’t had my hot chocolate and there was less than an hour of daylight left.


At which point I did something daring.

Which you might do yourself if your phone or iphone or camera battery is dead in the middle of a bustling market that you won’t have another opportunity to get shots of.

I walked into one of the mobile phone stalls that are wedged in between apron sellers, and fresh fruit vendors, and pork head posole stands, and luggage purveyors and where ladies with long ribboned braids wrapped around their heads sell freshly roasted grasshoppers, and asked if they might be able to charge up my iphone for a little while.

The first place said no, they didn’t have that kind of cable.

The second place said yes, but we close in a half hour.

And I said OK, and handed over my $500 iphone to a complete stranger in the middle of Oaxaca City’s busiest market and watched him take a box down with the right cable and plug in my phone. I walked on, in search of hot chocolate and hoping for the best.

Would I get my iPhone back? Would the shop be closed when I returned? Would I get any photos at all? The nativity stalls down to the last dregs of merchandise and daylight running out.


Firecrackers. Of every shape, size, color.

It is always noisy with firecrackers in Mexico. And a little more noisy at holidays. But not much.


I learned that they sell “children’s firecrackers”.

Which made me really nervous. They look like tiny candies which any kid would want to eat, for one thing.

Then there is the lighting the thing with some kind of fire source.

The hot chocolate and bread was perfect. I got my phone back with a sliver of battery more than when I left it, enough to get what you see here in this post.

The daylight ran out. But it gave me some new Christmas metaphors to think on.


I usually hold my breath when walking past the fresh meat stalls. This one (not any others) had a line stretching around and down the block.


I got a nativity! The very last one. These are handmade wooden crate like structures and you can buy them naked and put on your own live flowers and real moss, or buy them already put together.

I got a put together one, because it was pretty, and I never put moss and flowers on a crate and I still had to shop for figures. Determined to have a wee Christmas Eve decor in my apartment.


So. Bad planning on my part results in a chicken larger than Jose, elephants about the same size as the Baby Jesus, and tiny horses and burros even smaller.

I am totally in love with the pink and orange chicken, BTW.


This is a mini sheep (ram?) with gold coins and a red collar around his neck. Sold in many sized in the market and a must-have symbol of prosperity.

When I bought the Jose y Maria, the lady pressed it into my hand, insisting it was just as important as finding the Nino Jesus. Well, OK then.


My Takeaway

When it comes to photo opps – sieze the moment. Don’t wait for a better time to take the photos you think you’ll take.

This is something I encounter over and over again in my travels with photography.

Moments are fleeting. You don’t know if you’ll again see what you’re seeing right now.

Snap Happy.

And when it comes to Mexican altar-making: get your stuff early. Even though it will seem like there is so much merchandise there is no way it could all be depleted.


One Response to Feliz Navidad

  1. Ellen Bulterman January 5, 2013 at 11:06 am #

    I love, love, love this post! The images are gorgeous. We have two bagpipe players in our nativity from when I was a kid some 40+ years ago.

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