By Herb Meeker
News Report Staff
Each year, the nativities on display keep increasing for the Christmas at the Cross Open House.
There were 73 Sunday in the chapel of the Cross of the Crossroads Center.
Some were so tiny they could fit in a child’s hand. Others were large enough to cover a table. There was a special addition of an outdoor nativity that had personal history connected to the loaner.
“Jerry Boerngen helped paint those figures in 1955 when he was with the St. John’s Church of Louisville youth group. This is the first year we’ve had it wat the Open House,” said Christy Hakman, of the Cross Foundation.
At one point, Calvin Marshall, a 2-year-old from Chester enjoying the Open House with his grandmother, Bev Marshall, ran up to the figures and looked over the Baby Jesus with Mary and Joseph. Like many children, he seemed drawn to the peaceful scene.
Nativities first used real people to depict the Bible’s story of Christ’s birth. Francis of Assisi organized a drama to tell the story for worshipers mostly illiterate during the Middle Ages. The people acted out the story.
When the nativity tradition spread to Norway and other lands of far northern Europe, the harsh weather in December produced a compromise to avoid pneumonia or frostbite.
“They made snow figures for their nativities there. That is how snowmen were first made,” said Patti Winn, a collector of nativities, who loaned more than 40 displays to the Open House this year. She also helped children make hanging nativities out of Popsicle sticks and colored paper for a stable scene with Jesus and his parents.
Winn loves nativities because it recalls a personal memory of Christmas for her.
“When I was a kid, they did a live nativity at our church. My mom would give me a tiny nativity that was very small. I loved it. I still have it,” Winn said. “The great thing about nativities is they are fabulous pieces of art. They can be very elaborate or simple as can be.”
The nativities on display Sunday came from different countries. One set had Haitian figures lined up by a baby outside a hut, depicting the cultural heritage of that country with deep Christian roots. Two sets showed American Indians outside tepees to show the Christmas scene. In one, there’s a horse, buffalo and other animals taking the place of camels and lambs.
Other displays showed different architectural details of the famous stable from the Christmas story. Some had the stable made from wood. Others included a brick wall.
Some paint schemes were soft, while others include bold colors, especially when the three wise men are depicted. This is evidence of how artists around the world reflect their own vision or culture.
A very simple set includes Jesus, Mary and Joseph figures. It is from China where Christian worship could lead to repression. The Chinese nativity was used in the secret church gathering of Communist China.
The Cross at Effingham welcomes visitors from across the country as well as the world. Cross volunteers Brian and Delores Hartke are impressed with the different visitors.
“Today, we had a gal from California and another from Texas,” said Delores.
“Last month, there was a gentleman from Ethiopia,” said Brian.
The FACE orchestra and choir played Christmas songs during part of the afternoon program. Those tunes kept people in the Christmas spirit even before they looked over the nativities.
Winn said it has been fitting to include the nativities at the Cross Center over the past six years. That is because of the message of humility and mercy that Jesus brought to the world on his birthday.
“Jesus, who is God, removed his royal robes and crown in heaven so he could come down to earth as a baby in a smelly stable in a simple manger. His first step from the manger was his first step to the cross. So it is appropriate to have all these nativities at the cross,” Winn said.