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Touring the Nacimientos of East L.A.

For many devout Christians, the holiday season doesn't end with Christmas. Many continue to celebrate through Jan. 6 -- in the traditional calendar, the day of the Feast of the Epiphany.

It's a tradition among some in Los Angeles' Latino immigrant communities to observe the feast day with sometimes elaborate homemade nativity scenes -- called nacimientos -- on display in their front lawns. NPR's Mandalit del Barco recently toured the "mangers" of East Los Angeles, and found a wide range of ways people depict the visit of the three wise men to baby Jesus.

Some are much more elaborate than others. "Rivers and waterfalls are made of aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Mirrors become reflecting ponds for tiny ducks and sheep," del Barco says. "In most of these miniature recreations, Bethlehem ends up resembling a Mexican pueblo."

For the third year in a row, a group of artists, architects and urban planners called the Latino Urban Forum has organized self-guided tours of dozens of nacimientos, mostly in East Los Angeles. And for each nacimiento marked on the tour, there are probably hundreds more, del Barco says.

According to legend, nativity scenes were first introduced in Italy in the 13th century by St. Francis of Assisi, and the notion spread throughout the world. The outdoor nacimientos of East Los Angeles are usually taken down after Jan. 6.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.