Never Too Many Nativity Scenes

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - December 22, 2010
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Just one of the many creches in the Page-Coffee home in Aiea

All too often this special time of year, the actual Christmas story - the birth of Jesus - gets lost in the tinsel and commercialism of the holiday. In fact, our pastor at First Presbyterian at Koolau preached a whole sermon on simplifying the Christmas season by (among other things) comparing the tedious preparation of ornate frosted Christmas cookies to the less stressful alternative of simply eating fresh, ready-made malasadas instead. “Have a malasada Christmas!”

Indeed, it is with mixed emotions that I confess Susan and I finally gave in to the temptation of simplifying the whole Christmas tree issue by buying a beautiful, prelighted, fake (actually “simulated”

sounds better) tree this year. When decorated with all the ornaments it looks exactly like a real tree - except without the occasional bare spaces and lopsidedness of a real one.

Our guilt is eased somewhat by the fact that, for the past couple of years, we have actually de-emphasized the importance of the Christmas tree in favor of re-emphasizing the preeminence of the Nativity scene, the little simulated stable and bed of straw on which is the baby Jesus with - at a minimum - the figures of Mary and Joseph hovering over him adoringly. But as you know, most crèches have several figures besides Mary and Joseph and the baby; angels, shepherds, wise men and various stable animals.

Over the years, we have sort of inadvertently collected several versions of the Christmas scene. We have a small, crude, homemade wooden platform with the three major figures cut out by a band saw and a rough-cut star on a pole above them. They are adorned with little pieces of cloth as shawls and turbans. It was made lovingly by a lifelong Navy friend. Then there’s the terra cotta crèche, fashioned in free form, painted and glazed in Mexico. We also have a crèche made to simulate fine china, the figures glazed white with a blue tint at the edges. There’s the boxy crèche molded in one piece of resin made to look like a small open barn with a straw roof and realistic modeling of the three main figures. Another crèche is of eight frosted crystal figures, no detailing. The beauty is in their flowing forms. Yet another is made of quilted, printed fabric that folds flat all year, but unfolds and stands up at Christmas. Our smallest crèche is actually a tree ornament finely cut out of brass to form a three-dimensional scene looking through the stable, past the figures, to palm trees in the background. There’s hardly a room in our home where one of these simple little scenes cannot be enjoyed.

The latest addition to our collection is featured in our living room where the live Christmas tree used to stand (the new one is now in the downstairs den). Now, on the flat semicircle of the bay window are the 14 figures: baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, two angels, three wise men with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The scene also includes a shepherd, three sheep, a cow and a donkey laden with the shepherd’s gear. All of the ceramic figures are large enough (Joseph is a foot tall) for considerable detail in their features and clothing. Their robes and shawls are made of actual cloth held to shape by resin, the kings are adorned with actual beads and badges. The ceramic faces, hands and fingers are delicately formed and are totally realistic. A gold star (another tree ornament) hangs from a thread just below a small light that illuminates the scene from above: our star of Bethlehem. With the rest of the room’s lights out, it’s so easy to be drawn right into the story.

We will, of course, have presents beneath the tree where all will eagerly gather on Christmas Eve or morning, the exchanging of gifts symbolizing the gifts from the three kings to the baby Jesus.

But more significant to the season is the complete Christmas story as “told” by the various Nativity scenes around the house. They might not work for everyone, but they work for us.

To each his own “malasada”!

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