Brownsville resident has collected nearly 500 nativity scenes

December 24, 2017

Anybody who knows Emma Rios knows what to get her for Christmas: another nativity scene for her collection.

The hard part is finding one she doesn’t already have. Rios is an avid collector of miniature Christmas nativities, with nearly 500 of them so far and no two alike. Some are gifts from friends and family, others Rios has discovered herself, while her husband, Ruben, is always on the lookout for potential additions to the collection.

The sets come from around the United States, Europe, Central and South America, and elsewhere around the world. A number of examples are the work of native peoples. One recent acquisition from Oaxaca, Mexico, features exquisite beadwork and indigenous symbolism. Another indigenous example from North America shows Baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the rest nestled in the cupped hands of a creator deity.

“As it turns out, doing DNA analysis, I found out that I’m 39 percent Native American,” Rios said.

The Brownsville native taught at SkinnerElementary School until retiring in 2004. She then worked for the University of Texas at Brownsville for 10 years and now works part time for Texas A&M Kingsville, supervising student teachers.

Rios bought her first nativity in 1971. It was crafted by an elderly resident of the Brownsville Housing Authority high rise downtown. It’s still on display in Rios’ home for Christmas, though a donkey is missing an ear and a cow is minus a horn.

She received another set from a friend, then another from her husband. Things began to snowball, and around 1985 Rios realized she had developed a serious habit. Friends would bring her nativities from their travels abroad. When the internet came along, Rios started searching online as well. A friend told her about Amazon, though she hasn’t tried it yet.


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