Each year, Catholic faithful in Mexico honor the story of the infant Christ being presented before the temple in Jerusalem by adorning a figure of baby Jesus in fine clothing and praying for blessings throughout the year.
The celebration in Mexico coincides with the feast day of the Virgin of Candelaria, marked Feb. 2. In the days before the holy day, worshippers shop for new adornments and tend to any repairs the figures may need.
In the neighborhoods around Mexico City’s historic center, vendors in the traditional Merced market set up booths with everything one could need to repair the dolls and make them shine like new.
Ornate vestments in vivid colors and decorated with silver and gold finishes can be found in various doll sizes. Some model traditional Mexican folk wear, others honor distinct professions such as the “Child Doctor” whose small hand holds a tiny stethoscope, or pay honor to a favorite archangel.
For 27 years, artist Jorge Ramos has sold Jesus figures with each one’s features meticulously painted, particularly the eyes.
Small, simple figures can be bought for as little as 25 pesos, or less than $2, while fancier versions sell for more than 150 pesos, or more than $10.
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Maria Morales, another veteran of the Merced market, has repaired lost fingers and arms or reattached broken heads with the caution and attention that a child Jesus deserves, she said, recognizing that “each one has its history.”
“These are figures that have been purchased, inherited or received as a gift and they come here to repair them,” she said.
Once repaired and dressed in new clothing, the dolls are carried to Mass to be blessed before they are given a place of honor in homes where families gather for a meal of tamales hosted by whoever during the Jan. 6 celebration of Three Kings’ Day took a slice of the traditional King’s Day bread and found a tiny baby Jesus figure in their serving.