December 2018

My place at our dinner table faces a glass-fronted china cabinet. Tucked around pieces of china are small Nativities we’ve collected in our travels. They represent a variety of materials, including hollowed-out, igloo-shape bread dough of Ecuador, and hollowed-out, egg-shaped soapstone of Peru. They vary in size from half a walnut shell to eight inches tall with a six-inch base. Also of interest is a small matchbox from Vienna.

We’ve found many of these small depictions of the Holy Family throughout much of the world, but not in every country that we’ve visited. I presume they are available there, but we didn’t find them. That is particularly true of Germany’s Christmas markets where I would expect them to be plentiful.

Canterbury, England, stands out in my memory. I spotted a crystal Nativity, perhaps three inches high, as we left a gift shop with only moments to get to the motor coach. I thought I would find one somewhere else on our two-week springtime visit. I didn’t, so I don’t have one from my ancestral home country.

The most surprising place we located one is Ammon, Jordan, in the heart of Muslim country. It is a wood frame, oval shape with open sides all around. The clip and chain indicate it’s a Christmas tree ornament. Perhaps finding it there is not altogether a surprise since it represents capitalism, the non-Christian’s view of Christianity.

The most graceful Nativity depicts Joseph and Mary standing with Mary holding the Baby. This Nativity, including the halo behind their heads, stands six inches tall. It’s pewter on a wooden base. I found it in a cathedral gift shop in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Light tan angel wings encircle the Holy Family in our four-inch Norwegian crèche, which has the figures painted in pastel colors.

Our most colorful Nativity is from Costa Rica, easily the most colorful place we’ve visited. The material is clay, molded igloo-shape. The outside is white with some brown and red designs. Bright red edges the entrance. Inside, stars light the deep blue sky with one larger and more brilliant than the others. The figures wear bright colors.

People of Patagonia consider their country the last wild place on Planet Earth. I question that, but do admit it’s the most untamed place I’ve visited. This Nativity is the most interesting of our collection. Made of rustic, apparently untreated wood, it is 3-1/2 by 3-1/2 inches when fully open on rope hinges. Joseph stands on one extension and Mary on the other. The center section holds only the straw-filled crib. In Latin America, the Baby is placed in the crib after midnight on Christmas Eve. In our considerable travel in Latin America, we learned that some public displays don’t reflect that tradition.

Spain’s red clay depiction of the manger scene is almost as rustic as Patagonia’s. It stands eight inches tall on a six-inch base. The animals and the human faces are reminiscent of peasants we’ve seen in medieval paintings throughout Europe.

Portugal’s contribution to our collection is 2-1/2 inches tall, formed from agate, which has an intrusion of white quartz. The artist used this stream of white to represent a beam from the star, also quartz, shaped by the artist. The figures are ceramic.

My favorite Nativity is not from our travels. Our retirement community has a gift shop supplied by residents with all receipts going to charity. I purchased it there. Many of our residents have traveled, lived, and worked worldwide, so it could have originated anywhere. The set consists of thirteen pieces in gold plate, the tallest figure being two inches. I don’t know if there had been a shed. The pieces, flanked by five-inch tall palm trees, part of the set, stand year round on our mantle shelf watched over by the included angel thumbtacked to the wall.