Christmas in Colombia isn’t complete without the presence of the nativity scene (Pesebre), an ancient and cherished tradition deeply rooted in homes that practice Catholicism. From childhood, the youngest are taught the importance of setting up the nativity scene alongside the Christmas tree, both fundamental elements that kick off the celebration of Christmas Eve and the nine nights of novenas.
This emblematic ensemble represents the birth of Jesus and contains an array of elements ranging from farm animals, the Three Wise Men, peasants, small houses recreating the town of Jerusalem, to the essential figures of Mary and Joseph.
The nativity scene, from Italy to Colombia
The history of the Nativity scene dates back to the 13th century in Italy when Saint Francis of Assisi carried out the first representation of Jesus’ birth in Greccio, a town in the province of Rieti. Since then, this tradition spread across Europe and reached the Iberian Peninsula in the 15th century, where clay figures were introduced, including the representation of a black wise man, symbolizing the inclusion of the common people in these representations.
With the arrival of missionaries in the New World, the Nativity scene became an educational tool to superimpose the European worldview onto the indigenous one. Workshops for making figures were established in places like Santafé, Pamplona, and Popayán, allowing this tradition to deeply embed itself in Colombian culture.
The Colombian nativity scene tradition today
Today, the Nativity scene is a central piece of Christmas celebrations in Colombia. Alongside the “Nine Nights of Gifting,” family and community gatherings, as well as the Christmas Eve dinner, the Nativity scene creates an atmosphere of spirituality and celebration that brings families together in a moment of reflection and joy.
Creating the Nativity scene is a meticulous and creative act. Time and detail are devoted to each element, from arranging the figures to crafting small landscapes that recreate the night Jesus was born. The presence of the Nativity scene not only evokes the religious significance of Christmas but also fosters family unity and reflection on the importance of peace and hope.
This Christmas tradition endures from generation to generation, carrying with it the spirit of solidarity, love, and brotherhood that characterizes these festive times. The Nativity scene remains a vivid and cherished representation of the deeper meaning of Christmas in Colombia.