Advent Reading for December 23, 2021
by Ken Junkins

Personal and Unique Nativity

Ten Thousand Villages is a group that addresses economic injustice. Handcrafted objects are personal and unique. Ten Thousand Villages creates opportunities for artisans in developing countries to earn income by bringing their products and stories to local markets through long-term, fair-trading relationships.

Not only do Kathy and I like their ethical approach to global fair-trade, but we also love their hand-crafted wares. In this Peruvian nativity, Mary and Joseph are depicted as Quechuan herders and weavers. They wear traditional costuming of Peru and Joseph is carrying a drop spindle (pushka) and a ball of wool. Peruvian wool comes from alpacas and sheep, and so they are the animals in the nativity scene. The Christ child is happily resting on a clay jug (probably filled with warm water) on a woven blanket. He wears a ch’ullu, a knitted cap with ear flaps. The first ch’ullu that a child receives is traditionally knitted by his father.

Another of our ten thousand villages nativities depicts a pastoral or herding family, also from South America. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are shown again in traditional Peruvian costuming, Joseph and Jesus wear ch’ullus, Mary and Joseph wear ponchos. Instead of wool animals, a bull and a cow are present. They are sheltered on a large leaf symbolizing God’s abundance in nature.

Almost all Quechuas in the Andes have been raised Roman Catholic since colonial times. Still, traditional religious forms persist in many regions. These beliefs are blended with Christian elements. Integrated in this combination of Christianity and mythology is belief in Mother Earth (Pachamama). Our faiths have commonality in seeing God as provider of all things.  Gourd carving is another Peruvian artisan form. This Holy Family is protectively sheltered in a carved gourd. Mary, Joseph and Jesus have halos in this scene and are joined by two herders and their animals, an alpaca and a donkey.

These three nativities share several common elements. In addition to being hand-crafted by South American artisans, they lift up God as provider and protector though nature (wool blankets, plants, gourds all are symbols of this), and they have invited animals into the sacred circle.

Additionally, as white Europeans have, they represent the Holy Family in their native ethnicity, thus including themselves in the family of God.

We see these types of nativities as being universal, wrapping all of humankind into the love of God through the birth of Christ Jesus.