Nativity sets

This nativity from Lourdes, France, offers the features of many European Nativity sets over the centuries.

News Report Staff

They came in all sizes and colors.

They were formed from glass, wood, metal, porcelain, plastic, cardboard, cloth and paper. And they all offered blessings to people coming to the Cross of the Crossroads Open House Sunday afternoon.

Each year, the Nativity display during the Open House adds more pieces. This year, there were more than 100 sets, ranging in size from tiny figures to pieces measured by feet.

A walk about the chapel of the Cross visitor center for viewing the loaned Nativities also generated some memories of past Christmases for visitors. Adding to the personal trips down memory lane were the Christmas songs sung in the adjoining lobby by talented performers like On High and FACE musicians and vocalists. It also helped there were cookies and hot chocolate being served as well – another sign of Christmas.

“I remember the first set I bought as a college student,” said Carol Martin, a Cross volunteer, as she looked at some of the 100-plus Nativity sets on display in the chapel. “I really enjoyed the one with the mix and match set. It brings back memories to me.”

Martin and other visitors to Sunday’s Open House were impressed by the Nativities from foreign countries. Some of them were very simple like the Bolivian set with Mary and Joseph and the Christ Child made from spun cloth. There was a set of the Holy family carved from small pieces of wood. A Nativity from Cameroon in West Africa showed the Nativity figures in clothing and headwear from that region.

There was also a lesson on how Christmas traditions are formed by the weather of some countries. A Scandinavian Nativity included snowmen figures because the freezing weather in December in that region of Europe made it impossible to conduct celebrations of Christ’s birth with people outdoors acting out the story of Christmas. St. Francis of Assisi started the Nativity drama to illustrate the Christmas story to illiterate members of his congregation during the Middle Ages in Italy.

“Each figure has a meaning. And those from foreign countries are intriguing,” Martin said.

“I love the snow people. I didn’t realize they did that there,” said Susan Flesner, of Shelbyville. “I can’t believe how the various countries worship the Nativity and how they are so different.”

“I enjoy seeing how different people have Nativity scenes around the world and we’re all alike because we’re worshiping the same way,” said Marilyn Cline, a Cross volunteer from Altamont.

Several of the Nativity sets from foreign countries have been loaned to the display by Carol Toney, who conducts missionary work in different countries. She has traveled to Haiti, Bolivia, Honduras, Africa and Europe. With each trip, she brings back a Nativity and shares it.

“If you look closely, the Nativities are very peculiar to that country. The figures from Africa look like Africans and that’s true for the others,” Toney said.

Nativities are not just limited to tiny or huge figurines. Those displayed at the Cross Center have Nativities displayed on plates, carved glass, dolls, jewelry, Christmas ornaments and even a baking set with cookie cutters for creating people, camels, a lamb and other iconic figures gathered at the manger.

Did children scramble over the chance to bite into a camel or donkey after Christmas with the products from this baking set?

One Nativity was a reminder of how Americans are blessed to have freedom of worship in this country. A set once used in the former Soviet Union was set out clandestinely by Christians there. They did so because the Communist government was against religious worship.

The Nativities will be on display well past Christmas Day. If you couldn’t make it on Sunday, then check on the hours for the Cross Center and stop by for a chance to see a glimpse of Christmas from your childhood or how it is observed around the world.