Holiday traditions: Going around the world to collect Nativity scenes, each with a cultural touch

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For the holidays, most families have traditions that they follow every year.

In my parent's in the Dominican Republic, my favorite tradition is taking out my mom's extensive collection of Nativity scenes, or nacimientos as I call them, and displaying them all over the house like a museum.

Nativity scenes, also known as pesebres in Latin America, are meant to represent the birth of Jesus and include figures of a baby Jesus along with his mother Mary and father Joseph. Other characters sometimes included are an ox, a donkey, sheep and the Wise Men.

The first one my mother purchased was a clay Nativity scene from Dominican artist Ada Balcácer. But it didn’t start becoming a collection for her until she traveled to Spain in 1988 and bought one there.

She told me recently that it started off as a sort of a game that has since grown to 245 nacimientos from all over the world.

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There are pieces from China, Austria, Africa, Guatemala, Haiti, Czech Republic, Cuba, Peru, Mexico, Morocco, Poland, Austria, Dominican and the U.S. – just to name a few.

They are displayed on the Christmas tree, under the tree, in a vanity, on mantles, and the walls – there are even some that are gently placed in the powder room with a candle.

It truly is a mini-museum. We have even hosted viewing events because it’s a spectacular collection.

Hands down, my favorite one is a Nativity scene I found during a trip we took to Alaska in 1996. It has an Eskimo depiction of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph living in an igloo. Instead of an ox and a donkey, it has a gray and a white seal.

Anytime I return home, I always move the scenes around to different areas of the house – something that used to annoy my mother to no end while I was growing up.

Over the last couple of years, the collection has stayed mostly steady with only one or two added each year – my mother claims she no longer has enough space to store them the rest of the year.

I might add one more this year: a pop-up one I found at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

My mother passed along this tradition to me and I hope to pass them along to my future children. In the meantime, I just need to start my own collection.

I have one so far.