Throughout the Christmas season and into February, Lynwood's Concepcion “Connie” Rivero handles a brisk business tending to the “owies” of niños Dios – Christ child figurines at the centerpieces of household nativity scenes.
Within Lynwood’s Plaza Mexico shopping center, just to the left of the store with the colonial church façade is a sign that reads “Vestimos y Reparamos Niños Dios” - we dress and repair Christ child figurines. Connie Rivero, the doctor in this baby Jesus hospital, surveys a table with a couple dozen figurines.
Rivero has been repairing baby Jesus figurines for 12 years from her gift shop. She talks about it as a service to the owners - one that peaks during these winter holiday weeks and tapers off the rest of the year.
"They come for different reasons," she says. "Maybe they’re missing a finger or their arm fell off or something. Most of the time they went through the accident of little kid trying to carry them like a doll and that’s how they get break. Everybody bring them around this time to fix them."
The damage is ghastly: severed hands and fingers, decapitations – one unlucky doll has a tear down the middle of its chest. Rivero uses plaster and water-based paint she mixes herself to repair them.
"I try my best," she says. "Sometimes it’s not exactly what the owner had in mind, but I kind of play with the colors and try not to touch the face of the baby too much because I want the owner to carry the baby and have the same sensation looking at the baby – like before they bring the baby here to be fixed."
Rivero says it’s not respectful to throw one away. The figurines are the most important part of the Christmas “nacimientos,” or nativity scenes in Spanish-speaking homes. People reverentially place the Christ child figurine on the manger Christmas Eve, shower it with gifts on the Epiphany – January 6th – and put it and the other figurines away for the year with a party on February 2nd.
Rivero, born and raised in Cuba, didn't take part in this tradition growing up.
"I learned that tradition when came here," she says. "I lived in Mexico for a few months on and off, and I learned about the tradition in different states and I really liked it."
Rivero has been so busy this season that she hasn’t had time to fix her own baby Jesus after a friend’s toddler broke it. She charges from $5 for minor touch-ups to $150 for major limb re-attachments.
Last year 175 customers came through her shop door. Most are from Mexico. Jose Jaime Velazquez of Bell Gardens stopped by to check on the progress of his niño Dios.
"He was brought from Puebla and on the trip his finger brole off and he got some scratches," he says.
Connie Rivero’s spent so much time with the figurines during repairs that she can estimate their ages from their hair and the shape of their faces.
"Look at the eyes of this one, beautiful," she says, "a lot of people like the baby Jesus with blue eyes. I like them like this, this honey color. I love it."