Archive for Saturday, December 24, 2005

Sacred centerpiece

Heirloom Nativity sets carry extra meaning for families

December 24, 2005

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The floor at Brooke Waters' house looked like part Bethlehem, part craft project.

She and her 10-year-old daughter, Nicole Symons, were making a Nativity set out of pipe cleaners and yarn - with an occasional cotton ball or sequin.

They had mixed results with the early figures in the manger scene.

"Our first attempt looked like a little voodoo doll," Waters said.

Eventually, the mother and daughter got the process down - and in doing so, created an unusual Nativity scene for future Christmases.

Along with the Christmas tree, Nativity sets are often a centerpiece of household decorations around the holidays.

"They are a reminder of what we, as Christians, celebrate at Christmas: the birth of Jesus," said Chris Jump, who organizes the annual Festival of Nativities at Centenary United Methodist Church, 245 N. Fourth St. "I think it helps people to relate to God in a different way, when they can see or depict Jesus in their own image."

Much variety

Jump said imagination was about the only thing that limits manger scenes, which are also known as crÃches.


Brooke Waters and her daughter, Nicole Symons, 10, decided to make their own Nativity scene using pipe cleaners and yarn. Along with the Christmas tree, Nativity sets are often a centerpiece of household decorations at Christmas.

Brooke Waters and her daughter, Nicole Symons, 10, decided to make their own Nativity scene using pipe cleaners and yarn. Along with the Christmas tree, Nativity sets are often a centerpiece of household decorations at Christmas.

Some feature only Mary and Jesus, while others have a variety of shepherds, wise men and townsfolk. In addition to the more traditional plastic, wood or ceramic, Jump has seen manger scenes made of seashells, wheat, bamboo, velvet and many other materials.

Different regions of the world are reflected in the skin color and garb worn by the characters. The locale also dictates the type of animals in the scene. Jump said she once saw a Nativity made by Eskimos who used seals, wolves and reindeer.

Marietta Martin has seen some of that variety in the 25 Nativities she has in her collection. She likes the cowboy-style one made in South America, which uses a corral instead of a barn.

But the centerpiece of her collection is one carved from olive wood. Martin purchased it in 1991, during a trip to Bethlehem, where Christians believe Christ was born.

"I generally try to put it in a special place," she said.

The crÃche at Trinity Lutheran Church, 1245 N.H., also holds a special place in members' hearts because of its location of origin. It's from Oberammergau, Germany, a village known for playing host to a passion play once a decade since 1633.

It's also known as a haven for wood-carvers, and Trinity Lutheran has several carvings on display from Oberammergau, including a 12-piece nativity set.


Sallie Dickinson has a Nativity set of stained glass made by her father in the late 1970s and early 1980s. These are five of the 12 pieces.

Sallie Dickinson has a Nativity set of stained glass made by her father in the late 1970s and early 1980s. These are five of the 12 pieces.

It was donated to the church by a member in 1970. Members think it's made of linden wood that has been painted.

"It's very much a part of the Christmas season," said Nancy Vogel, who chairs the church's historical committee.

Homemade Nativities

Sallie Dickinson's prized manger scene was made by her father.

He taught himself to make stained-glass art in the mid-1970s, then began giving Dickinson and her two sisters figures for a Nativity set each Christmas.

He started with cows and sheep to perfect his technique before moving on to baby Jesus. Dickinson's set now sits on a shelf above a door, where it can catch light from a window.

"It's extremely meaningful," she said. "I don't think we've ever purchased a Nativity scene. They've all come from the family, like made from our children in Sunday school. This, of course, was the most meaningful."

Barbara Mullen's favorite Nativity also was made for her. Hers is a wooden jigsaw puzzle. When the pieces are removed from the puzzle, they stand upright to make a manger scene.


Dan Abrahamson dusts off some of the Nativities he made while he was in the Army in 1960.

Dan Abrahamson dusts off some of the Nativities he made while he was in the Army in 1960.

The father of a childhood friend made it for her about 10 years ago.

"The kids play with it a lot," said Mullen, who has children ages 1, 3 and 5. "It's special to me."

Dan Abrahamson's prized Nativity was a product of boredom. While in the Army stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, Abrahamson decided to take a ceramics class to help pass the time.

He ended up casting a Nativity scene, which he painted with bright colors. He managed to get the Nativity back to Kansas in one piece, and it sits on the piano at his home each advent season.

"When I made it, it was just something to do," Abrahamson said. "But over the years it's become something special to us. I suppose it has gained value to us because we've had it around so long."

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