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Christmas in the Hills with Celso and Kay

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My friend Celso Rosa visits from Brazil to see the Crèchemania Collection — and finds the spirit of Christmas at Kay Kassube's home in the Black Hills...

The Fleur-de-lis Nativity graces Kay Kassube's magnificent year-round Christmas tree. 
It's Christmas year-round at Kay's Black Hills home. 

Sharing my love of paper nativities with you is the reason for Crè, and hearing from you thrills me just as much as discovering a beautiful vintage crèche.

But getting on a plane and flying to the Midwest to visit the Crèchemania Collection? From Brazil? Who does that?

My buddy, Celso Battistini C. Rosa, crèche enthusiast, creator of superb dioramas (see photo, below), founder of Amigos do Presepio, and friendly competitor in the acquisition of vintage nativities, that's who.

Celso is a meticulous craftsman, an artist whose museum-quality dioramas have been admired by the many visitors to the Monastery of São Bento, Vinhedo, in his native Brazil. To his Nativity diorama exhibition at the monastery this year, Celso also included his paper crèche collection, to great acclaim.

"A crèche," says Celso, "doesn't just continue an old tradition — it reveals the true meaning of Christmas: because it reminds us that the Babe was born for us all; because it allows us to recognize that God invites everyone — rich and poor, Magi and shepherds — to the manger.

"I love crèches and think about them all of the time. People might say that I am, like my buddy Alexis, a crèche maniac!"

And, like any good crèchemaniac, Celso steps off the plane — wearing a Crèchemania-embroidered hat (there was one more in his bag for me) — and heads to the attic of our Victorian, home to the Crèchemania Collection.

Hours go by as we look through pop-up, fold-out, and die-cut nativities; stacks of old nativity sheets; trace the revolving wheel of the Angelic Host Crèche and scan the Angelic Host Angels missing from his nativity; print the Cuckoo Crèche pages so Celso can create his own.

There's one little problem with that plan, however: the cuckoo movement I had ordered for him has arrived without the cuckoo mechanism. But Sally, the sweet cuckoo saleswoman, tells me that she's expediting another cuckoo that should reach us before Celso boards his plane.

It's great fun having Celso's discerning eye next to me as I am cutting and pasting on the computer to create the Fleur-de-lis Nativity. I want to create a fold-out and miniature versions based on a vintage very large German original that features elaborate construction. Simplifying the design and scaling down the size is called for, and Celso's suggestions, as always, prove insightful.

You mightl enjoy finding the differences between the simplified, "miniature version" shown at the top of this page, and the Premium Download.

Please note that the "miniature on this page is a miniature in name only, since it is 8 inches wide, created especially for Kay's tree. The true miniature version, of course, will measure be 3.5 inches wide.

Where did the days go? It's time to head for the Black Hills of South Dakota where my friend Kay Kassube is awaiting us.

With Celso and Kay at Mount Rushmore. 
But before heading West, we head South, so Celso can see the beautiful stained glass windows of the Cathedral of the Epiphany in Sioux City, Iowa.

It's about noon, and we find the Cathedral locked. But the sacristan, Douglas Hernandez, is working in the yard and kindly lets us in.

In the dark Cathedral, the stained glass shines brilliantly. Taking up the left and right transepts are The Nativity and The Adoration of the Magi (The Epiphany), stained glass windows that Cathedral Rector Rev. Father William J. Vitt, Jr., has described to me as, "Homilies in light."

These magnificent Nativity and Epiphany windows were designed and made sometime in the early 1900s by Mayer & Company of Munich.

Celso is stunned, saying, "There are no words to describe such beauty."

We bid goodbye to Douglas, and head to Yankton, South Dakota, to the Chapel of the Sacred Heart Monastery. I love attending Christmas Vespers there, but somehow I had missed its exquisite Nativity window (it was nighttime, and the church was packed), but my good friend from college days, Sister Margretta, told me about it since and invited me to return.

We'd be there still, either in the chapel or on the monastery grounds that overlook the wide Missouri, but the Black Hills — via the Badlands — beckon.

Celso's prize-winning Nativity Diorama features life-like figures and fine detailing. (Photo by Celso Rosa, courtesy Amigos Do Presepio.) 

It's fritatta — for 23! 
It's Christmas Year-round at Kay's house

It's after 7:00 p.m. as we approach the home of my good friend Kay Kassube. Celso is driving, and I'm listening to Kay's driving directions on my tape recorder — "Pass the Presidents Park," take a left, drive for four miles…" — and soon we're knocking on her door.

Kay opens it with a big smile and a hug, and lead us into the soaring great room where a brightly lit Christmas tree reaches almost to the two-story cathedral ceiling. (See photo at left.)

"You know how much I love Christmas," Kay says. "I just didn't have the heart to take the tree down once I had it decorated."

I'm so glad she didn't. It will be the perfect perch for the present Celso and I are planning to give her: the Fleur-de-lis Nativity. (See photo, top of page.)

In fact I have brought three copies with me, fresh off my laser printer, along with X-Acto knives, cutting boards, and paper glue so that Celso, Kay, and I can celebrate Christmas in May by assembling nativities together.

But there's no time for cutting and pasting just now: dinner is on the table, and there's so much catching up to do. When the grandfather clock strikes midnight, we know that the nativities will have to await another day.

At 7:30 a.m. there's a knock on the door, and in walk 18 geology students with their two professors. They're camping out while on a field trip in the Hills, and Kay — who taught geology at the University at the University of South Dakota — has invited them for a warm breakfast.

Kay's already busy preparing one of the frittatas in a huge pan, while Celso assists stirring another. I've got an easy job pushing a button on a barrista machine making cups of coffee.

My task done, while Kay and Celso are cooking breakfast that includes two large pans of bread pudding — I'm cutting and pasting. My nativity finished, I place it on the Christmas tree. I'm surrounded by a roomful of students, and I think this might be just be the right for a sing-along: "Hi everyone! Will you join me in singing a Christmas carol?"

"Silent Night" fills the room, and Kay (a former choir director) joins in, singing a descant melody with her clear, soprano voice.

Celso whispers, "It doesn't get any better than this," and everyone lines up for their frittata.

Kay's home is nestled in the Black Hills. 
Our tour of the Black Hills begins with Kay behind the wheel and a drive through the majestic Spearfish Canyon.

We stop by the Bridal Veil Falls that cascades into the river that borders the twisting road. The river banks are lined with green, "But that will turn to bright blue," Kay says," once the True-Forget-Me-Nots are in bloom."

A short drive later we're in Wyoming, and Devil's Tower comes into view, a sight Celso first saw in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. For about an hour-and-a-half we walk around its base, craning our necks towards its top.

"It's an igneous intrusion or laccolith, the remains of a large volcano," Kay explains. "The Lakota called Devi'ls Tower Bear Lodge, and Native American folklore has it that girls out playing climbed a rock to escape the bears that were chasing them. The girls prayed to the Great Spirit, and the rock began rising up so the bears could not reach them. But you can still see their claw marks on the sides of Devil's Tower to this day."

Kay is a wonderful tourist and field guide, and as we travel through the picturesque Needles Highway, Custer State Park, and loop back North to visit Mount Rushmore she shares her geologic knowledge and love of the Black Hills with us.

"Weihnachten 2003," just one of the Christmas plates that decorate three walls of Kay's Black Hills home. 
It's after 10:00 p.m. and time for the requisite stop in historic Deadwood, home of Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane. Then it's time to call it a day.

Back at Kay's, the Christmas tree is lit and the FLeur-de-lis Nativity nestled in its branches. I see a garland draped over the grandfather clock and I wonder: is this the extent of Kay's Christmas decorating?

"When it's truly December," Kay says, "when I do Christmas, it's Christmas everywhere!"

As it was two years ago when the house was decorated, the refrigerator was full of food and the Christmas tree trimmed with presents and Kay and husband Tom awaited their children and grandchildren for Christmas.

"But the snow started to fall, and it totally covered it that tall window. We couldn't go out, and no one could reach us, let alone drive the five hours from Sioux Falls. We were snowed in for two weeks. That was the most miserable Christmas ever.

"I love Christmas: the carols, the decorations, the giving of presents. But the biggest thing to me about Christmas is family —and not having ours here was unbearable.

"Everybody gets kinder at Christmas. And I think, why can't that good will that's present at Christmastime be there all year round?"

How short 400 miles seem when talking to Celso about wonderful time with with Kay and the nativities we all three love. There's one more stop at the Washington Pavillion in Sioux Falls to see the Broadway musical Jersey Boys before Celso boards his plane and is on his way home to his family. Kay and I would like to thank his lovely wife Regina and children Fernanda and Felipe for sharing him for a few days with us.

The Nativity Window, Chapel of the Monastery of the Sacred Heart, Yankton, South Dakota. 

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