So! Here’s the story of our Nativity scene.

During the four Christmasses we spent in Bologna, Italy, we had the pleasure of visiting many churches during Advent to view their Nativity displays. Most scenes were very old, and some were as large as a room with many moving parts, lights, and special effects that had been added through the centuries. (The Naivity in the church of San Petronio has an marble angel carved my Michaelangelo.) The scenes contained many anachronistic pieces – Italian bagpipers from the hills (who still come into the towns to play in the streets over the Christmas season), figures representing characters from the Commedia del’Arte like Harlequin, all sorts of animals not found in Bethlehem…in short, they were a delight to visit each year. My children were very young, and I decided to start collecting pieces for our own Nativity scene. The individual pieces were very inexpensive, and during the four yearrs in Bologna I managed to assemble quite an impressive collection. Each year I set it up on our mantle, and each year I hid the Christ Child until Christmas morning, when he would appear in the manger. Then disaster struck! One Christmas we discovered that we had inadvertently thrown out the well worn box that contained our Nativity scene during a rare but intense binge of cleaning the cellar! I was quite upset, but we decided to begin assembling a Nativity scene all over again. And so, during the past twenty five years our Nativity has grown to something amazing! It fills our mantle and spills onto several levels. Barry made the most wonderful stable, and we have collected all the “traditional” participants – camels, wisemen, shepherd, Mary, Joseph, angels, donkey, etc. BUT we have also added a variety of other pieces, all given lovingly as gifts by friends and family. Among them are a blue hippopotamus from the New York MOMA, a Mexican boatman, several giraffes, Italian bagpipers, a Labarador retriever, American Revolutionary soldiers, and a handcarved English nanny that was mafde by a dear friend who from Wales who believed every baby should have an English nanny. She now stands proudly beside Mary. There is a tiny turtle and several cats, a llama, Clydesdale, and a black sheep carved in China. I have knitted a small bunting for Jesus, who always looks so cold. And He doesn’t appear until Christmas morning. Where does He stay until then? In our liquor cabinet! Also a tradition of many years. The first time I placed him there next to my favorite bottle of Scotch, it was because the liquor cabinet was very close to the fireplace. THen it became a tradition. Now every year my son calls to ask if I’ve put Jesus in the liquor cabinet. That’s an indication to him, I think, that all’s well with the world. I assure you there is no disrespect intended by that little hiding place. On Christmas morning Jesus is lifted into his manger, and from then until the Epiphany on 6 January the wise men get closer and closer to the stable. All is calm. All is well. Blessings abound!


  1. Jane
    Jane says:

    Martha! Bless you for keeping the little baby Jesus out of the manger until Christmas! Before Christmas, whenever I see a crèche gracing a churchyard, and the baby Jesus is already in place, I just want to snatch him away, leaving a note: “It is not My birthday quite yet; be back soon!” And then I’d sneak him back into the cradle in the wee dark hours of Christmas morn.

    Of course, with so many churches pre-placing Him, if I really was to pursue this task, I would need to buy a shed to hold the many Him’s in limbo. And then there would be the cataloging to make sure I returned the right baby Jesus to the correct manger. Oh, it’s exhausting just thinking about it. I’ll simply keep on smirking and grumbling.

    But I am happy to know that I won’t have to smirk and grumble at you!

    • Martha K. Richardson
      Martha K. Richardson says:

      Ah, Jane! I’m so glad there’s another person who thinks it’s wrong for the baby to be in the creche before Christmas morning! Of course, I’ve been criticized about putting him in the liquor cabinet, but there are several bottle of liquor in there filled with things originally created by monks. So, gee! And that bottle of Scotch next to which Jesus is lying snuggly in his hand knit blanket is quite good Scotch! So there he lies until Christmas morning when he will grace our little nativity with his presence. The Chinese sheep and the Clydesdale and the bawdy angel from Thailand will be as happy as all the traditional folks, and the English nanny will be thrilled to finally have something to do. Bless you, Jane. You’re a true purist!!!!

  2. Larry says:

    Martha, That was written beautifullly. I loved it. Since you did such a great job on that piece, maybe you could share your memory of a winter scene hidden in a roll-top desk.

    • Martha K. Richardson
      Martha K. Richardson says:

      The roll top desk! Yes! I could share a lot of memories about the house with the roll top desk and the people who lived – and died there! Hmmmmmmmmmm!

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