When you spot a creche of mermen (and Mary), which self-respecting mermaid collector could resist?

mermaid nativity scene

A creche of wooden, carved and hand-painted merfolk (5-10 cm tall)

We had previously seen the odd mermaid – often strumming her guitar – as part of a Mexican Christmas nativity scene. But this was the first time all the characters – the Kings, Angel, Mary, Joseph and even the infant Jesus – were proudly sporting pagan mermaid tails.

In our search for the ‘why on Earth’ (or Heaven) we stumbled across this insightful paper on the significance of mermaids in Mexican folk creches. It turns out that the landlocked peoples of the Americas likely discovered mermaids along with Christianity from missionaries hailing from Europe, and over time naturally combined new and traditional lore. According to Erika Esau, the local supernatural deity Chalchiutlicue, ‘Lady of the Emerald Robe’, was herself regarded as something of a “Virgin Mother of the minor gods of the heavens…” by the Aztecs. Her strong connection with holy (jewelled) water seems to have helped her swim quite naturally into the nativity scene which is, after all, a collection of members of the local community.

While this doesn’t explain an entire gathering of merfolk hanging around the manger, it has certainly opened up a new chapter of Mertails.