El Nino de Atocha © Aris Dervis

© Aris Dervis 2002

El Nino de Atocha has three distinct histories. In the earliest version, he appeared in Spain during medieval times when the Moors were imprisoning Christians. Allowing them neither visitors nor food, the guards were surprised to see a young boy carrying a basket and entering the prison. Perceiving him to be a manifestation of the Christ child they let him visit every day. In New Mexico, El Nino de Atocha appears as a curious spirit who roams the countryside at night spying on residents and curing their ills. His devotees leave him white baby shoes as an offering to replace the ones he wears out in his constant travels. A particularly vital shrine of his is located in Chimayo, New Mexico. In the Santerian religion, El Nino de Atocha is a syncretization of the Orisha Ellegua. Ellegua is the guardian of the crossroads and is petitioned first at all ceremonies. A trickster spirit with a childlike appreciation of candy, he is shown here against a backdrop of sweets. One Monday morning in February I was giving El Nino his weekly offering of candy. Since it was close to Valentine's day I gave him a bag of conversation hearts. One fell to the floor and I picked it up. Before placing it on his altar I read it. It said "Thank You."