As previously mentioned, I’m into a very big nativity set. Not as in “collecting many sets”, but as in a sprawling one that takes over a sizable chunk of the kitchen counter.
I made most of the buildings out of salt dough or scrap wood and sticks from the yard. The mountain is double-sided, with a cave for the shepherds on the back, and a large stable space on the front. There’s also space for a couple of goats and a flat spot to stand an angel right above the stable. Most of the “ground” is various pieces of fabric: burlap for the dirt of the town, various green bits for the countryside (including some worn-out pants legs), and a weird striped green from the remnant bin at the fabric store that’s being used as a plowed field. Storage boxes that protect the buildings are used to make the hills.
Years ago, in French class, as a comprehension exercise, we watched a news report on one town’s nativity scene. Typical of the region (and also common in areas of Italy), the scene had an entire room of its own in the town hall. Mountains stretched to the ceiling, bustling streets were crowded with people, bakers bring bread, weavers bring cloth, shepherds bring lambs, and, finally, at the end, was the stable and the Holy Family. The idea was to make people think about what it would’ve been like to be there, in Bethlehem, all those years ago, and to remind us that Christ is still in our midst. Traditionally, the figures of the townsfolk were all dressed in local costume of the time, while only the Holy Family was in more historically appropriate robes. (If you’re familiar with Provencal santons, that’s what they are: figures originally meant for Nativity scenes.)
Would you have noticed this poor baby, born in a corner of the inn’s stable? What would you have brought as a gift?
We each have something different to offer, and it is not always the gift itself, but the giving in faith that is the important thing. We read this recently in the Gospel about the widow’s mite; she gave what little she had, in the faith that God would do something with her tiny gift and also continue to support her. This is also the lesson in Tommie diPaola’s The Legend of the Poinsettia, a lovely book describing a girl’s prayerful offering of weeds when she had nothing else to donate on Christmas Eve. She gave in faith, and the plain weeds suddenly blazed at their tips with gorgeous red flowers. Great book.
Wow, I thought; what a cool idea. What a great way to focus your celebration of Christmas on Jesus.
I am indebted to Mrs. O at A Fine Mess for posting this great video about the Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square. I had seen it before, but it never really registered that it is gradually getting bigger nor that the building changed drastically each year. Very cool.
Very useful for this level of detail (my husband usually mutters something about “obsessiveness”) is the book People of the Bible: Life and Customs by Silvia Gastaldi and Claire Musatti. (Yes, the loom works; I wove about six inches of fabric on it, just to roll it up on the top beam.)
Every day of Advent, each child gets to pick out a figure to put out (until we run out of figures). My kids think it’s a hugely big deal when the baby Jesus finally gets put out in the stable.