Amozoc, Mexico

It’s known as the town of the Nativities, or los nacimientos. For more than a century, Amozoc, in central Mexico, has been the home of craftsmen skilled in creating religious figurines, who have passed their skills down through generations.

But the industry has undergone tremendous change in the past decade, due to competition from Asian imports and the increased cost of materials. Out of the roughly 600 families that once produced Christian figurines in Amozoc, only 200 families remain.

José Luis Ramírez, a fourth-generation artisan in Amozoc, is among those who have seen the landscape change rapidly in the past decade. Sales at his family’s workshop have fallen by 40 per cent over the past three years. Ramírez blames competition from figurine factories abroad that produce work that is of inferior quality but less expensive.

Amozoc’s artisans make their molds by hand and cast in small batches, then hand-paint their figures. Decades ago, the Mexican industry sold to the worldwide market, but today the industry’s best customers tend to be smaller merchants and Mexicans who prefer to buy local, high-quality work.

In the middle of the holiday season, the town of the Nativities is doing brisk business, filling locals with hope that their livelihood will survive. But it might just take a Christmas miracle.

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Religious items produced in Asia can be purchased in Mexico City markets at lower prices than their Mexican-made equivalents. Many merchants sell both Asian and Mexican products, which they say gives consumers the choice of either lower prices or locally made products. PICTURE: Irving Cabrera Torres/RNS

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José Luis Ramírez checks on the small retail section of his workshop. While sales of Nativity sets make up much of his business, the best-selling pieces are still figures of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast comes two weeks before Christmas. PICTURE: Irving Cabrera Torres/RNS

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The Ramírez family is one of only 200 families of artisans continuing to work in Amozoc. Roughly 400 families closed their workshops in the last decade as markets shifted and sales dropped for Mexican artisans. PICTURE: Irving Cabrera Torres/RNS

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An Amozoc vendor wraps a religious statue in her shop. Products vary in size from small figurines less than an inch long up to 6-foot-tall statues. Prices can range from a few dollars to more than $600. PICTURE: Irving Cabrera Torres/RNS

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Luz Ramírez paints the hand of a life-size Magi statue at the family’s Amozoc workshop in central Mexico. The thousands of religious figures made each year are hand-painted. PICTURE: Irving Cabrera Torres/RNS