Recreating an eternal miracle through Nativity

Pope Francis visits an exhibition of Nativity scenes in Rome earlier this month. Photo: AFP  

Among the most enduring traditions of Christmas, especially among the Roman Catholics, is the recreation of the Nativity, or the scene of Jesus Christ’s birth.

A tradition said to have been started by St Francis of Assisi in 1223 at Greccio, central Italy, the Nativity scene emphasises the spiritual aspects of Christ’s birth and advocates worship over materialism during the festive season.

The Nativity scene can have live re-enactments (called tableau vivants) or models representing the Biblical characters. Over the years, Nativity scenes have been commonly staged or displayed in public places like shopping malls and parks with the addition of contemporary themes and handicrafts.

Christmas crib by Hermon Carduz. Photo: M. Srinath/ THE HINDU

Christmas crib by Hermon Carduz. Photo: M. Srinath/ THE HINDU  

This year, the Vatican inaugurated its Christmas tree and Nativity in St Peter’s Square in a grand ceremony on December 5. The Nativity features 23 hand-carved wooden figures representing life in a small rural village in the northern Province of Trento in the early 1900s and uses wood that was gathered from a storm in 2018 that destroyed almost 50,000 acres of forest in Northern Italy.

Old, yet new

“The Nativity is a reminder of the humble setting in which Jesus was born, and how He takes care of the people on the margins of society. We use locally made artefacts for the display, and it is an event for everyone to enjoy viewing,” says Father T Sagayaraj, parish priest of St Mary’s Cathedral in Tiruchi. “Every year we commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ with carol singing, and a team from the church meets parishoners, sharing the wishes of Christmas and New Year. Though it is an age-old custom, it still has a new momentum each year,” he says.

Models of faith
  • At Kanya Krafts, Melapudur, which specialises in the sale of Christian ornaments and clerical vestments, this year has been good for crib sets. “Despite the rainy weather and a slightly dull Deepavali sale period, we have been getting a good response for our Christmas decorations, particularly the Nativity sets,” says proprietor Joseph Anthony.
  • In the world of figurines, terracotta no longer holds sway. “We have got plaster of Paris (PoP) models made in Srirangam and new poly-resin models from China. These are more durable than terracotta,” says Anthony.
  • Each Nativity set comes with 12 figures (of Baby Jesus, Mother Mary, Joseph, the three Kings, a shepherd, angel Gloria and farm animals) in sizes starting from 5 to 12 inches for home display. The bigger ones, (up to 3 feet tall), are usually meant for church events.
  • Poly-resin sets cost from ₹1400 to ₹5300 depending on their size, while plaster models range from ₹600 to ₹2000.
  • “Setting up the Nativity scene has become a secular tradition for many city residents,” says Anthony. “Often, the cribs are seen as good luck charms and bought by Hindu families hoping for children. We also have some people trying to bring an Indian look to the Biblical figurines by adorning them in specially stitched local costumes,” he adds.

A contemporary theme is added to the Nativity to make people reflect upon God’s will and message for humankind, he adds. “This year, we will focus on ecology and global warming, and our role as guardians not rulers of Mother Earth,” says Fr Sagayaraj. “The Earth is a home that we share with other creatures, so we want to inspire people to save the planet. Our Nativity will be on display in our courtyard by December 23 and will be open to all.”

Besides a host of cultural programmes for the festive season, St Joseph’s College has also been holding an inter-departmental Christmas crib competition this week. “About 24 departments in the college are competing to showcase the topic ‘Jesus’s Birth in Today’s Context’. Judges will select the best crib and participating departments will also be honoured for their contribution to this event, which will be the culmination of our Christmas celebrations,” says Fr K Arockiam SJ, Campus Ministry Director.

Homemade innovation

For Chennai-based homemaker Indrani Janakan Paul, festive displays are an opportunity to use waste material in innovative ways. She has reinvented old shampoo, disinfectant and hand-soap bottles as dolls for the Nativity scene, and dressed them up in leftover scraps of fabric sourced from a tailoring unit. “Shopping has become the mainstay of Christmas celebrations over the years, and very few people like to make anything personally these days. Reusing material is much better for the environment than buying new things each year,” she says.

Nativity dolls made with plastic bottles by Indrani Janakan Paul. Photo: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Nativity dolls made with plastic bottles by Indrani Janakan Paul. Photo: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT  

Many celebrants remember the setting up the crib and rooting around for materials to create homemade props for the Nativity scene as one of the best parts of Christmas.

“Many of my Hindu and Muslim friends have helped me with the Nativity displays, and it is usually an occasion of much joy and camaraderie,” says Tiruchi-based Hermon Carduz, artist and lecturer, who has created a dreamy Nativity scene with fairy lights at home this year.

He remembers that the sweetest reward for all the toil as kids, would be kalkal, a fried pastry made of flour, eggs and coconut milk rolled in powdered sugar. “Nearly all the Anglo-Indian families used to make large quantities of kalkal that we would devour while arranging the Nativity display,” says Carduz.

Christmas Nativity crib at the Kanya Krafts in Tiruchi. Photo: M. Srinath/THE HINDU

Christmas Nativity crib at the Kanya Krafts in Tiruchi. Photo: M. Srinath/THE HINDU  

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Printable version | Aug 2, 2021 1:19:07 AM |

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