catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 23 :: 2006.12.15 — 2006.12.29


Unto us

Part 1 of 4


I first began to think of the nativity scene as an art form during yearly trips to the Christmas-time creche exhibits at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.  My sister Lois loved to go and wander the exhibit.  This is, perhaps, where she began to think of starting a crèche collection of her own.

Like many people, I'm usually confused about what gifts to get for others at Christmas time.  To cut down on some of this confusion, I started to give the same thing each year to some—coffee for my brother and his wife, an angel for my niece.  And of course, a crèche for my sister Lois.

The first crèche I gave her was a small piece of wood that, almost by accident, had ended up shaped like the figure of a mother with a baby.  After that, some years I gave her a nativity scene that I made, some years I gave her one that I bought.  She always seemed to like the ones that I made, though, like that first simple one of wood.  Although, as the years went by, some of my "made" ones turned out to be a little unorthodox.

I've always been drawn to crèches, probably because the nativity scene (rather than a supposedly-pagan tree) was at the center of my family's Christmas traditions.  Some of my earliest Christmas memories are of the yearly ritual of setting up our cardboard cut-out "manger scene," as we called it.  When I was young we always put it on a card table draped with a blanket, and it was behind that draped blanket, underneath the manger scene, that we hid our gifts for Christmas.

It wasn't until I began to think about the crèche as an art form, though, that I started to wonder about how glibly we represent our deity in concrete form, and how commercial that form has become.  What does it mean that we mass-produce the birth of God and sell it for profit and for display?

There is a powerful connection, I think, between the physicality of the material world and the physical fact of our most sacred being taking human form, a connection between the gift of god-become-flesh and the gift of material-turned-art.  All the better, to me, if the crèche is formed out of material one wouldn't expect to make sacred.

Jesus was born in a stinky stable, after all, a found room when his family was turned away from all the posher places.  Why not, then, a crèche from found pieces thoughtlessly discarded by those with the benefit of better toys to buy new?

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