Our Christmas Crèche

 

I have no memory of the day my grandfather gave us his hand-made Nativity set. I don’t know how he got the idea to build the stable from a disgarded fruit crate. He cut out Mary’s and Joseph’s kneeling silhouettes from veneer scraps – then used his oils to paint their beatific faces and traveling robes. I’m pretty sure that Baby Jesus was a dime store dolly before Granddad swaddled him and laid him in the manger (crafted from glued-together pieces of wood). Every December, Mom would position the figures on a table and to complete the scene, she’d add pine cones, fir branches and lights of some sort. When she had finished, she always stood back, smiled, and said how much she loved it.

I would cringe because I felt too guilty to admit that I thought our crèche was too plain and too simple. I thought we should have a much fancier one.

Oh how I admired my friend’s elaborate Holy Family figurines. They were made from fine porcelain and dressed in flowing brocade. A heavenly host of angels, three wise men on camels, shepherds and their sheep, an ox and a donkey stood in adoring attendance.

Years passed, I moved to Mexico, and our family always spent the Holidays there. In many Merida homes, the decorated tree takes second place to an elaborate reenactment of the holy birth. I could never look at my sister-in-law’s without remembering the “plain and simple” one I grew up with.

I will be traveling to Mexico in a week’s time, but before leaving Kamloops, I wanted to put up some Christmas decorations around my apartment. My sister Barb brought over a cardboard box containing baubles, strings of lights… and the old family crèche!

Nostalgia overwhelmed me as I set up the Nativity scene in a corner and surrounded the vintage pieces with pinecones, votive candles and fir branches. I stood back and looked hard. The Christmas crèche is still as “plain and simple” as ever – but my eyes see it differently than when I was a child. Now it looks “plain-ly and simp-ly” beautiful.

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18 thoughts on “Our Christmas Crèche

  1. ah so beautiful my friend! i think our family creche came from zellers or fields (or some other discount place). We did have animals and wise men & dad enhanced the scene over the years. When Gary & I were down in Cancun with Kathleen & Tom many years ago, we purchased a set (or two – not sure anymore!) of ones in the big craft market there. All the scenes are displayed at Christmas time now (I made one in a ceramics class too)..
    I will miss you dear friend & will wait with anticipation for your return. And when Jorge comes up we shall have to ferry you both over to Gibsons and have brunch or dinner at Lunitas – a new Mexican restaurant here.
    love ML

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    1. Seeing you several times over the past 6 months has been a highlight of my stay. We’ve been friends for nearly 60 years and every one is better than the previous. Merry Christmas to you and your wonderful family. While I am in Merida, we’ll be in touch by mail and such…

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    2. Years ago when I came to Mexico I bought a lovely basic crèche and a hand made barn with bark and moss. I stopped putting it out as the family stopped going to church. I didn’t see the point. I wish now I had kept it. I can’t change that but will look for something small in the shops in Mérida. We hanks for sharing this memory.

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      1. I think our créche, like some other bits of “religious symbolism”, transcend “going to church”… Maybe memories and identity are ties we share that are broght to mind by tangible memorabelia such as Christmas créches, family bibles and our Grandmother’s rosary?

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  2. Many years ago when my late husband was off work (General Motors was on strike), he went to Steinberg’s store in Québec (similar to Loblaws in Ontario) and brought home some wooden fruit crates which he broke up and made into a barn and painted. It was beautiful. I got the figures from a dime store and still have them although they are almost 50 years old and the barn too. Another crèche story: My mother bought a small nativity scene complete with barn and figures many years ago. When my brother was about 5 he bought a small sleigh with Santa and eight reindeer as a gift for Mom. Santa and his entourage went on top of the créche barn. My sister now has the crèche along with Santa and he still is on the rooftop. Two beautiful memories. Look forward to seeing you in lovely Mérida where the weather is some days hot and some days a tad cooler.

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    1. Such sweet stories Sharon… I’d like a photo of your sister’s Nativity crèche with Santa on the roof of the stable! Life is a trip, isn’t it? I also look so forward to seeing you in Merida… soon, very soon…

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  3. Hello dear friend. Waiting anxiosly for your arrival to sunny merida. As usual my house ia full of christmas do dads as always as for me it is the best time of year…great to renew your faith, .another chance to see friends, cooking too much food, rushing to stores to find that perfect gift for a friend. The teas. The posados the breakfasts. Oh i love it all even putting up the old tree…decorations and meager…just the memoeies of past family and friends makes me feel how important they were to me and to give hope what is to come. Christmas time brings back the old and new. And to thank the man up stairs of all that i have lived with so many people who have made my journey a won derful one

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    1. Dearest Kathy… I cannot wait to seeyou! I hope you are ready for a l-o-n-g walk and talk around the stadium because we have much to catch up on! And don’t forget I’ll be having my tea on December 20th… As you say, “Ah, the memories!”

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  4. My dear friend and writing mentor, we have missed your smiling face and warm personality. It will be good to see you again and share some laughter and joy during the holidays and the few months you will be here in Merida before heading back to the north.
    Much love and appreciation, – David and John

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  5. I just spent a weekend at my parents’ house, which I moved of 30 years ago. A lot of the same old decor is still there, but I see it differently now. Or rather, now I really see it. These objects hold a new meaning for me, now, and they’re more beautiful and precious than I could have ever imagined.

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  6. What a great story. You reminded me that for Christmas one year, my mom took an old suitcase, covered/pasted it with burlap material, sawed some pressed board into perfect divisions, placed them inside it, and then I had a place to put all my music tapes. Took her weeks, and I watched her make it. She could have bought a plastic one for cheap, but gave me a priceless gift instead that I still have. (And those gifts can help humanize people when we want to practice forgiveness, an extra benefit, I am finding.)

    Joanna, your posts are simple miracles. (They often trigger things long forgotten, now fully accessible again.) (And, they help in gathering that “30” you suggested we gather.) Thank you!

    Reminded of two more song triggers:
    “The hardest thing for me is true simplicity
    It’s the only thing that’s good enough for you.” —“Simplicity” by Tim Curry

    and

    “Ain’t nothing like a sunny day
    Chit-chat at a street cafe
    Just paint the picture
    Where you want to be

    I remember how I used to want it all
    Funny how the big things seem so small
    I dream of simple things
    I can believe in
    Like the feeling this day brings
    True love and the miracle of forgiving
    I believe in simple things” —–“Simple Things” by Amy Grant

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    1. Thank you Harold. It is so true… what many of us once thought of as great, now seems small… and what seemed “plain and simple” is what we value most. Health is wealth, and time spent with those we love are the best hours in th day. Merry Christmas!

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