Dec 17, 2009

The Creche

In the year 1223, St. Francis of Assisi, the Andrew Llyod Webber of Christianity, introduced a living crib scene at his Christmas Eve Mass in the village of Grecchio, Italy. He wanted to inspire greater religious feelings, and help in the interpretation of the story of the birth of Jesus in an attempt to place the emphasis of Christmas upon the worship of Christ rather than upon secular materialism and gift giving. Yeah, that worked out pretty well, right? People acted it out. Except for il Bambino - he was wax... probably employed to get around having a SAG Representative on set. News of this live nativity scene spread like the bubonic plague and people imitated the crib figures in their local churches, and then they wanted them in their homes, and eventually Macy's offered a Hummel Nativity scene.

Until The Norman invasion of Britain, Christian imagery tended to be very Byzantine style characterized by formality of design, frontal stylized presentation of figures, rich use of color especially gold. The stories in the Nativity Cycle were often painted onto church walls as a visual aid to largely illiterate congregations. The Normans, with the blessing of Rome, set about destroying these images by painting over them, because they were “Not Western,” and a new order was evolved. However, as they covered all the old picture-stories with Limewash, they were actually being preserved rather than destroyed. Today many restored churches in England have this wonderful old witness to the early stories of Christ's nativity for all to see. I'm actually conflicted to what I think about this, so let's move on.

The tradition in England, involved baking a mince pie in the shape of a manger to hold the Christ child until dinnertime when the pie was eaten. When the Puritans banned Christmas celebrations in the seventeenth century, they also passed specific legislation to outlaw such pies, calling them "Idolaterie in crust". I am going to have to say that I am agreeing with the Puritans here.

Today, there are hundreds upon hundreds of styles and materials used to make Nativity Scenes. From fine Italian marbles, full-sized wax museum pieces, ornate sculptured Teak wood, to Legos and Playmobile, and my personal favorite Fisher Price Little People - all representing the miracle of the birth and adoration of Jesus Christ.

Public nativity scenes have not escaped controversy nor vandalism. Those in public buildings or on public lands have sparked lawsuits in the United States, and a life-sized scene in the United Kingdom featuring waxworks celebrities provoked outrage in 2004. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) notes animal abuse connected with living nativity displays. A city council in Spain provoked protest when it forbade a traditional character in a public nativity scene, and, across America, the theft of ceramic or plastic nativity figurines from outdoor displays is not an infrequent occurrence during the Christmas season. Damn teenagers love stealing Baby Jesus.

Also, I should share that I discovered that in Catalonia, they have quite an unusual tradition. They put up a statue known as a caganer. The caganer can be found hidden far away from the manger and other characters, and for good reason. The word caganer literally translates to the "pooper", in English. This is what the little statue is doing. No wonder it is placed in an obscure position. The meaning of this tradition has been lost, but some think this tradition has gone on for many reasons. Firstly, tradition. But also for humor, a symbol of fertilizing the earth, equality of man, and also naturalism. Whatever the meaning, this is a part of Catalonian tradition. I think the Poop Smith would be a perfect addition to your tradition. You can call him Cap'n, if you want.

PS: The nativity scene with IG-88, Big Boy, Mister Burns, Playmobile Jesus, and Danté of the movie "Clerks" is probably my new favorite. It materialized in an office at the PBS television network: Link.

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