The first Christmas decoration to go up in my home every year is my beautiful all-white nativity scene designed by artist and sculptor Trina Paulus. I bought the 18-piece set from St. Francis Bookshop (then in business around the corner from Franciscan Media) when I moved out of my childhood home and into an apartment more than thirty years ago. The “Shepherd Set” was available in white or terra cotta, and I purchased the white set.
Years ago Trina Paulus described her experience of creating this nativity scene: “Out of my fingers the clay figures seemed to flow, and the idea of each figure having a gift to bring, which has meant so much to children for generations, emerged naturally. Mary with her empty lap (the baby can be removed) to wait through Advent in expectation until a child puts the little baby into her arms on Christmas Eve; the girl with her basket, which can be filled with seeds or berries; the shepherd with a lamb; the boy bringing his dove; and Joseph, the watcher and guardian.” The three wise men each carry a gift too. This simple yet elegant nativity scene celebrates the perennial dignity and beauty of the human form.
Every Advent for decades, I have carefully unpacked each of the figures and their gifts and placed them on the mantle, surrounded by greens and white lights. This year, though, I decided to place the nativity scene on my dining room table as its seasonal centerpiece so that all guests to our home this holy season can appreciate the beautiful figures up close and personal. I must admit, however, that I am somewhat paranoid about anyone else handling the figures!
I loved this nativity set so much that when my first niece and godchild, Julie, was born, I purchased the same set for her. At her baptism and for each birthday and Christmas afterward and her First Communion, I gave her one piece of the nativity scene. Her set matches mine exactly, and it is a way for niece-godchild and aunt-godmother to bond spiritually at Christmas.
I’ve given crèches as gifts to others too—to engaged and newly married couples as a gentle reminder of the Holy Family. If I know at Christmastime that a wedding is scheduled in the coming year, I purchase a nativity set on sale after Christmas and tuck it away.
This year, as St. Anthony Messenger Press rebranded itself and became Franciscan Media, I wanted my corporate e-greeting to authors, publishing colleagues, and friends around the world to feature a crèche, something so intrinsically Franciscan! For the e-greeting text, I selected an excerpt from one of our Advent-Christmas books, Advent With the Saints: Daily Reflections, written by my coworker, Father Greg Friedman, O.F.M. The crèche photo (see featured photo above) that accompanies the excerpted text was taken by Don Nesbitt, spouse of another coworker. The colorful crèche in the e-greeting photo belongs to a friar who is guardian of the friary next door to Franciscan Media.
My Christmas wish for you is that you will step into the nativity scene this year and meet the Christ Child and that you will experience a joyous Christmas season and a new year of peace!
Every Franciscan’s heart is somehow linked to the nativity scene, in part because Francis recreated “a new Bethlehem” near the Italian hilltop village of Greccio in 1223, in a “living nativity.”
But a deeper connection for Franciscans is the truth of God-become-human. Francis understood the great act of love in the “attitude of Christ Jesus,” who did not cling to divinity but emptied himself and took on our humanity.
In the spirit of the poor man of Assisi, we are all invited to step in the nativity scene ourselves!
Featured photo by Don Nesbitt/© Franciscan Media