Sunday, December 13, 2020

Christmas: Nativity Scenes

 Plastic, wood, resin, paper, wire, porcelain, clay, fabric, cornhusks, metal. Do a quick internet search and you'll see that you can purchase a nativity set made of almost any material imaginable. I once made a nativity scene for a bird-loving friend using mushroom birds from the craft store. The base was a straw wreath form. Mary was a bluebird, wrens and chickadees were shepherds. A small nest served as the manger. Three peacocks were placed on the wreath later to serve as magi. The characters of the story are so familiar that we can recognize them in all kinds of settings and all kinds of materials. Even birds. Or rocks.

On a Ventura, CA, beach a stacked stone nativity scene appeared. The characters are easily identifiable, even when made of stones that are still stone-shaped. The stable-ish backdrop is also stacked stones pierced by an oculus window, allowing the light to shine in on the child. 

For additional information on the Ventura stone nativity, click here.

Do you have a nativity scene that is part of your Christmas celebration? Do you have a set that has been in your family? Is it whimsical? Ornate? Formal? Each set will interpret the nativity story in a particular way. One friend bought a gorgeous porcelain nativity set that she doesn't use any more. She says it seems "too perfect" for the story. The niece of another friend was so taken with the nativity scene at her church that she asked for her own "Jesus farm" to play with at home. And many families have no doubt found the odd plastic t-rex, Barbie, Darth Vader or action figure hanging out around the family manger scene. 

There is something about these figures and telling this story. Every age, every culture turns the story into their own setting, telling the story in their own way. As a story of joy at the birth of a baby. As a story of hope because our Savior is born. Every painting, every nativity scene tells the story in its own way through the choice of setting, costume, materials. 

Perhaps the most elaborate iteration of the nativity scene is the Italian presepio tradition from Naples. Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus are in the scene but are sometimes almost lost among the butchers, the fishmongers, the basket-sellers, the wine merchants, the sleeping figures, the clerical characters, the town buildings, and the sheep, dogs, cats, and other animals. Somehow, though, that seems right because Jesus does come to us in the midst of our busy lives and this busy world. Staking out space to tell this story 

During the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany season, you might connect the stone nativity scene here with "Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey" (2016), written by Margriet Ruurs inspired by the art work of Nizar Ali Badr

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