I have really enjoyed being a member of the U.S. Friends of the Creche Organization. It has been a very enjoyable experience to get acquainted with others who share my same interest in the nativity. We have guest lecturers who lead very interesting discussions on different aspects of creche history and collecting such as an interesting professor who talked about the varying interpretations of the Star of Bethlehem. In Toronto, Canada, where we just met in October, many of us traveled into the northern areas of the country and learned a great deal about the Inuit People. (They were formerly called Eskimos, but now we know they think of that as a derogatory term.) Their art is fantastic and seems quite different from that of other peoples. Their characters are strong and bold, but often carved beautifully in stone. They have carved impressive, yet tender interpretations of the Holy Family and the three Kings. It has been a great place to see and learn about new and unusual nativities as well as a wonderful opportunity to make new and lasting friends.
…and one of mine is a children’s nativity from Kenya.
I was especially interested in this nativity when I saw it and I bought it immediately. It was created by the children in Kenya, Africa. All the features of the creche are wonderfully child-like. For instance, they have no sense of bodily proportions so the arms of all the figures go down only to their waists instead of to their knees. The feet of the figures, especially the Wise Men, are made much too big so the figures can stand up. Women in Kenya also have very short hair and are all bare-breasted. It is quite unusual to see Mary in that way, but the children just make the figures the way they see them everyday in real life. They have never seen many of the animals described in the Biblical story, so they make them from their imagination, especially the ones on the lef, which is usually very strange and even funny. Notice that the Kenyan men all have beards and bones in their ears. All the figures are made of mud and dung which holds together very well when dried. Also note the amazing angel. I love this nativity for all the above reasons, in fact it is one of my most favorite!
When I was in college I was an English major and my parents made it possible for me to travel to London to attend the University of London in 1952 for summer school. There were three of us, a cousin, a friend and myself, who had arranged to travel for a few weeks in Europe. Before leaving home I had asked my mother if there was anything she wanted me to bring her back from my adventure. Her eyes misted up and she said she would love a beautiful nativity. When I was growing up my brother, sister and I always loved playing with an inexpensive nativity at Christmas that came from Woolworth’s five and dime store. So I happily agreed and was determined to find one for her.
After summer school was out, we traveled by train to some wonderful places. I especially loved going to the Swiss Alps where they had so many wood carvings. It was there I found the perfect hand-carved nativity for my mother. It portrayed the Holy Family in a beautiful stable. I also bought a donkey, an ox, a sheep, a kneeling shepherd and a little shepherd boy. It was beautifully life-like, simple, no gold trim, and stained in lovely soft tones. I loved it and knew my mother would too. Thrilled, I had it all crated up to carry with me. When I arrived home, my mother asked me if I had found a nativity for her. I told her how sorry I was but I had not been able to find one. I later informed her that the large crated box was full of crystal goblets I’d bought for my hope chest.
I came home from college for Christmas vacation. After my folks had gone to bed on Christmas Eve, I set up my Mother’s nativity on a small table with a light above it. In the morning when my mother saw it, she started to weep with joy and she cried off and on all day long. It was an unforgettable Christmas! My Mother’s joy over her nativity had touched my innermost self.
Years later, after I was married and far from home, my husband and I were invited to a Christmas party at a house where some dear friends were “house-sitting.” In that house there was a tall open cabinet with five shelves. On each shelf was a nativity from a different country. It had never occurred to me that nativities were not all like mine – that artists might incorporate parts of their own country’s customs and traditions when creating a nativity. It was a totally new idea to me and it was very exciting! I knew at that moment that I would love to collect nativities – and I have.
This book was written by Elizabeth Anne Christensen, usually known as Betsy. For the last sixty-five years, she has been a passionate Creche (Nativity) collector. In this book she has presented 205 of her favorites. Some are beautiful, some interesting, some strange, even a few that you may consider to be weird! They represent many different countries, continents and areas around the world. Also included are 205 detailed descriptions of each creche. Often wishing she had more details, Betsy shares everything she knows about the artists and their creches. The nativities range from beautifully simple, to extremely intricate. All were fascinating to Betsy and were a thrill to discover. She also loves poetry and has collected nativity poetry for many years. It was both stimulating and exciting for her to search for and find a poem that somehow seemed to “fit” or reflect each nativity.
Creche collecting has been a popular pastime for centuries. Historically, it was the European Kings and Queens who were striving to outdo one another, having the biggest or the finest creche. For some time there has been a group called “Friends of the Creche” in Europe. The United States joined this group about a dozen years ago and now the group is strong here and collecting nativities is very popular. A quarterly newsletter, the Creche Herald is now available to all.
Betsy was part of a group that in 1983 began and supported a very large Creche Exhibit for twenty-five years in Ann Arbor, Michigan. At the present time, December Creche Exhibits are available in many places in the USA including Arizona, Connecticut, Utah, California, Michigan, Iowa, New York, Texas and Florida.