Tuesday, December 24: The annual crèche exhibit at Washington National Cathedral is an exhibit our family goes to see every Christmas eve morning. We’ve been going to see this exhibit for close to 20 years. The crèches show the story of Jesus’ birth as interpreted by cultures and customs around the world. I’m always amazed by the way artists use natural materials found in their environment to create these amazing nativity scenes.
For over 200 years, artisans in the south of France have been making clay santons, or little saints, as part of their elaborate nativity scenes. Santons provide a detailed look at Provencal culture in the hundreds of local rustic “types” of figures as witnesses of Christ’s birth, in addition to the traditional Biblical figures. Santons include people from all walks of life, regions of southern France, different occupations, and all socio-economic levels. All come to worship the Christ Child.
The bodies of the tall figures in this nativity scene from the Philippines are made up of thin rolls of newspaper bound together. Carved wooden heads and shredded abaca fiber or yarn hair are then added to complete the figures. The Christ Child lies in a manger elevated by two rolled paper supports. The headdresses worn by the wise men are secured by tiny nails.
This is one of my favorites; I love that the figures are made of newspaper! How wonderfully creative!
This carved wood nativity from Indonesia contains simple elegant figures. It centers on a wonderful manger where the Child lays with his hands on his stomach. He has no facial features other than a carved nose.
This large nacimiento from Peru is sculpted from wood and plaster and painted in vibrant patterns and colors which mimic the textiles created in Ayachucho, Peru. The Christ Child is seen as a mature child with curled hair, wearing a round-brimmed hat. He embraces a cross, His destiny. Mary is crowned with a silver halo while Joseph holds a red rose, a symbol of Mary. The wise men are dressed in native Andean garb, sandals and rolled pants and patterned cloaks or native caps with ear flaps.
I wish I could have opened the cabinet door to get a better look!
The nacimiento from Bolivia consists of soft sculpture dolls, made of cardboard and burlap and intricately embroidered. It was made by the Kunturi, a group of people who are physically challenged and who construct these as part of their therapy. The black condor, the native bird of Bolivia, is part of the scene.
This crèche depicts the traditions and cultures of Alaska. The figures of Mary, Joseph and the Christ Child sit within a lodgehouse, which is set on poles to store winter provisions. Mary is dressed in native garb, while Joseph is dressed as a Russian settler. On the roof is a star and a snowy owl with a halo rests nearby, representing an angel. One wise man is dressed in the oilskin of a fisherman and brings an Alaskan king crab; one comes in a kayak bringing fish; and the third is a musher, bringing furs on a dog sled pulled by malamutes. A little girl stands nearby playing a native stick game. The animals include a caribou, a walrus, a puffin, a moose, a polar bear, and the Alaskan state bird, the ptarmigan. Native plants are represented by the spruce tree, the fuchsia fireweed, which grows profusely along Alaskan roadways, and the Alaskan state flower, the forget-me-not. A totem pole completes the scene.
In this nativity from Arizona, the Holy Family is placed in front of a traditional house, called a hogan, which is designed in a circular pattern, symbolizing the land in the center of the four sacred mountains of the Navaho people. The Child is depicted on a traditional bed board and the Wise Men are depicted as Native American chiefs in full ceremonial regalia.
The pastel presipio from Italy is made of hand-blown solid glass with a distinctive iridescent finish. Mary, in pale blue, kneels with her hands folded. Joseph, in pale orange, stands with a staff and open arms. The Christ Child lies in a manger under a blanket with a sleek donkey and sheep nearby.
The figures in this nativity from Singapore are made from the trunk of the cinnamon tree, called kayumanmis. While the bark is ground into cinnamon, the trunk is ground into a powder and mixed with water to form a soft dough. The figures are then formed on a wire armature. The entire process takes anywhere from two and a half to fifteen hours, depending on the intricacy of the figure. This set was made by the Tay Guan Heng family, whose main occupation is making joss sticks for use in Hindu temples.
These are only a few of the many nativity scenes on display at the National Cathedral until January 12, 2014. They’re a marvelous reminder of the true meaning of Christmas.
Merry Christmas! 🙂