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.