Nativity Village on display until Feb. 2 at Connellsville restaurant

| Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014, 5:33 p.m.

The Christmas celebration isn't over yet at Connellsville's El Canelo Mexican Restaurant.

Every year, family members from El Canelo set up a Nativity Village.

A Nativity Village is customary in Mexico for the Christmas season.

The display is intricate in its depiction of the land and the hundreds of display pieces that have been handmade in Mexico.

Assistant Manager Carlos Gonzolez has been at El Canelo for six years. With the help of his nephew Nehim Cisneros, the Nativity Village was created for the first time in the restaurant three years ago.

Alicia Cisneros, restaurant manager, worked with her son Noel on the Nativity Village for two weeks as time allowed, said son Noel Cisneros.

Alicia Cisneros is the sister of Gonzolez and mother of Nehim Cisneros, both of whom helped with the display. She is back in Mexico, while son Noel is here, working at El Canelo.

Noel Cisneros said the sky is done with cotton.

“The important thing is the star that has moved to direct the Kings who are seeking baby Jesus. They will follow it until they arrive at the stable, at the top of the display, on Jan. 7, King's Day. Until Dec. 25 you did not see the Kings in the display. They are now coming together to follow the star to baby Jesus in His manger. King Melchior is bringing gold, King Gaspar is bringing frankincense and King Balthazar will bring the oil myrrh. One will ride an elephant, one a camel and the third a horse as they travel from distant areas, different cultures, until they meet to travel together on the pilgrimage,” said Noel Cisneros.

Joseph and Mary, who is with child, have traveled over nine days, being turned down each day for a place to rest, explains Noel Cisneros. On Dec. 24 they are offered a stable. The nine days represents the nine months of the pregnancy of the Virgin Mary. The next morning baby Jesus is born.

Noel Cisneros explains the Joseph and pregnant Mary who had been traveling on a donkey are now replaced with the two beside the manager that holds the Baby Boy. The angel appears and tells the kings that someone very important has been born.

Noel Cisneros must move pieces every few days to tell the story accurately. Each detail is important.

The Nativity Villages have grown over the years in Mexico. Other countries may have much smaller displays. Each family in Mexico has a Nativity Village in their home.

There are hundreds of colorful pieces that are placed throughout the Nativity Village, including houses, animals (including a rooster), structures and more. All are handmade.

Noel Cisneros said the markets in Mexico are filled with them. Creating the various pieces to sell is a popular pastime in Mexico.

Those in the scene at El Canelo have been shipped or brought there by Alicia Cisneros over the years.

She has been in America for eight months. She purchased some of what was needed for the Connellsville display at the market near her home in Mexico. Other pieces have been in the family for decades.

“Joseph and Mary are 30 years old, older than I,” said Noel Cisneros.

Several young customers of El Canelo have asked and placed items of their own in the display.

Noel Cisneros and Gonzolez explains the celebration of Christmas begins nine days before Dec. 25 and continues beyond. The days are filled with special gatherings and Mass. A neighborhood home that is to be the center of a celebration turns out the lights and the neighbors ask to come in as Mary and Joseph did but are told no nine times before entering, when compassion is shown as it finally was to Joseph and Mary. It is a time of prayer for everyone. When prayer is complete, the children are excited to receive a special Christmas bolo, which is a special little gift, often a small basket of candy and fruit.

“Also a traditional circular bread with one small baby Jesus baked in is served. It symbolizes opening our hearts and our homes to baby Jesus,” said Gonzolez.

“Our customers really enjoy the display, in many ways it represents coming together and spending Christmas with family. In Mexican homes the family creates this display together as Americans put up their Christmas tree together,” said Gonzolez.

Gonzolez said the Nativity Village at El Canelo is unique in that it has running water, a feature that is not able to be included in Mexican homes.

“Not only did the Kings follow the star, but pastors from afar did as well. Our Nativity Village has been blessed by Padre Bob Lubic,” said Gonzolez.

“I was honoured to bless the Creche at El Canelo. Seeing the devotion of Carlos and his family strengthens my own faith,” said Lubic, pastor of the Catholic Churches of Connellsville (Immaculate Conception, St. Rita and St. John the Evangelist).

The display will be taken down beginning Feb. 2, the day King Herod ordered that all infant boys under the age of two in his kingdom be killed. King Herod was furious. He had expected that the wise men would return to report to him where this baby who was to be King of Kings could be found, but they were told by an angel not to. The devil is a part of the display as he tempted the kings on their journey.

Those who visit El Canelo after Jan. 7 will see that the kings have arrived at the sacred event in the stable at Bethlehem. After Feb. 2, Nativity Village will be stored until next December.

El Canelo Mexican Restaurant is located at 130 W. Crawford Ave. in Connellsville.

Nancy Henry is a contributing writer.

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