Nativity Traditions At El Pueblo

Image of Nativity Scene

Nativity Traditions at El Pueblo

First displayed in 1962, the beloved Nativity Scene displayed at El Pueblo’s kiosko is an Italian carved and painted set created in the 1950s.  This collection of traditional nativity scene figures combines work from two different studios: Vincenzo Demetz Figlio and Goffredo Moroder & Figli.  With a tradition of woodcarving dating back to the 17th century, these studios are located in the town of Ortisei in the Val Gardena valley of Northern Italy along the Austrian border. This Gröden or Val Gardena style was created by the Ladin people out of an initiative to create and repair wooden items on their own. By the 1700s there were already 40 professional woodcarvers in the area. 

Black and white image of Angel and Jesus statue

According to the Demetz family their business began in the 1830s at the Cësa de Feur. Franz Demetz, the third generation to own this building changed the business name to Vincenzo Demetz Figlio and began selling religious wooden art in the 1950s alongside the traditional wooden dolls and toys. The company is now known as the Demetz Art Studio srl and remains a leader in the religious art market. Goffredo Moroder & Figli (& sons), like the Demetz Art Studio is still active in the town of Ortisei. The sculptures at El Pueblo were imported by Mr. Adolf Fusek who visited the Moroder studio where he met Herman Moroder, son of Goffredo Moroder and saw the pieces on display being created.

Here at El Pueblo, the Nativity Scene plays an integral part to another long tradition at Olvera Street: Las Posadas. Celebrated throughout Mexico, Latin America and Spain, this nine-day celebration recreates the the journey of Mary and Joseph looking for posada, or shelter, to have the baby Jesus. In this tradition, the shepherds and angels are depicted by live actors and musicians. Mary and Joseph travel up and down Olvera Street seeking shelter, being granted posada in one of the shops on Olvera Street. At the end there is music and champurrado and pan dulce throughout the Pueblo. 

Additional History of Nativity Scenes

The tradition of the Nativity Scene appears to date back to 1223 in Greccio, Italy. St. Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first Nativity display after being inspired by a visit to Jerusalem. His goal was to refocus the celebration of Christmas on the birth of Christ rather than on gift giving. The popularity of these displays grew exponentially after this and nativity scenes and plays became a tradition around the Holidays throughout the world.

Originally, these displays could include live animals and actors, but over time utilizing sculptures became more common. The Nativity scene shows the birth of Christ with Mary and Joseph around him. The baby Jesus is placed in a manger, or food trough for livestock. These scenes often depict the family surrounded by shepherds and animals. The most common animals that appear in these scenes are oxen and donkeys as an allusion to the Book of Isaiah. The Magi are often depicted with their camels bearing gifts for the newborn baby. Angels often surround the scene. 

The Nativity scene as we know it today embellished on the biblical description of the birth of Christ. The Magi, or three wise men, were not present at the moment of Christ’s birth, but rather arrived within a few years guided by the star. Likewise, animals were not mentioned in the original biblical story. 

Image of Nativity Scene