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Wondrous Christmas Crib

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A marvelous vintage German paper nativity glows — and mesmerizes with its revolving star…


The Wondrous Christmas Crib glows, and its Bethlehem Star turns by the slight heat generated by the small five-watt bulb inside.


 
The Wunder-Weihnachtskrippe, circa end of the 19th century. 
I can't be sure how long this large brown envelope (shown at left) has been in my collection. All I know is that every time I've run into it when looking for a paper nativity to build for Christmas, I've always put it back.

But not this time.

Because I found the bright drawing of the Wunder-Weihnachtskrippe (Wondrous Christmas Crib) lovely, but more than that, I was intrigued by the Star of Bethlehem pictured hight above the chimney of the red-tiled nativity, supported on a thin wire. Was it meant to revolve?

The word licht found on the floor of the crib offered a clue, an indication that the heat of a light source to be placed there could power the star.

How this was to be done, exactly, I had no idea, and this was the reason that in the past I've always put this envelope back in its drawer. But this time, I was determined to figure it out.

Wondrous Christmas Crib

The 11 x 17 inch Wunder Weihnachtskrippe envelope held together by scotch tape features a bright, color image of the Wondrous Christmas Crib, and this picture, alone would have added it to many German children's Santa list.

But, just in case, the publisher didn't hedge his bets: "There is nothing that intrigues a child's mind as much as the Christmas Crib of the Holy Night," is just one of the advertising blurbs found in German on the envelope.

Others declare that, "The lighting of the crib is magical;" "Decorate your Christmas Tree with the Christmas Crib;" and "The excitement of the Christmas Crib should not be missed by any family."

At the very bottom of the envelope, in tiny, hard-to-read Old English-style letters is found the "Explanation," the how-to's of constructing the crib. "Assembling the Christmas Crib is simple and easy…"

At the very end of this how-to paragraph, I spot the word stern, star. Am I about to discover the secret of the revolving star? But, all it says is, "On the disc the star is to be positioned. By the warmth of the fire, the star turns."

That's all I needed to know, and soon five colorful Wunder Weihnachtskrippe pages were coming off my printer.

 
The translucent angel window adds a special touch to the Christmas Crib. Notice that it's mirror-image than the one in the original crib, shown below. 
Angel window

The Christmas crib features an inside wall with two windows, a door, and a third, transparent window depicting an angel announcing the Good News to the shepherds (see image below, left).

I could only imagine the wonderful effect of this stained-glass-like translucent image, illuminated by the same light source propelling the star. But it's one thing to be looking at a printed image on cigarette-thin paper, another recreating on a laser printer.

Luckily, 3M to the rescue! Its multipurpose transparency film for ink jet paper printers and copies is just what was needed. But I had to be careful to use the rough, not the smooth side, for printing, otherwise I would have ended up with a pool of ink.

While assembling the crib, the answer to how the star would revolve became apparent: it would have to be supported on a pivot at its top.

But this was easier said than done, as it turned out, because of scale: when you bear in mind that the Christmas Crib was reduced to almost half size — in my mind, big is not always better — from its original 12 inches width, you realize how small the star is: 2 inches high, by 3/8 inches wide at the top, by 3/16 inches deep!

That means that whatever shape the pivot took, it could only be 3/16 long, and even less wide so it could be positioned inside the two mirrored-image pieces that, attached to each other, make up the revolving star (see image at left, below).

With the angel window and red cellophane behind the other windows in place, assembly of Christmas Crib proceeded quickly. Now all that remained to do was to the star.

My hunch was to use a 1/4 inch-wide thin piece of brass to create the pivot on which the star would turn.

 
The star attaches to the fan and contains a brass pivot — shown at bottom left trimmed and untrimmed — on which it turns. 
The Revolving Star

Placing the brass on a piece of wood, I tapped ever-so-gently on sharp pointed nail set to create a dimple in the brass. And I had to be careful, because my first attempt drove the nail set right through the thin, soft, brass. Then I centered a larger-pointed nail set on the depression I just made, and gently tapped again a couple of times. I finally repeated this with a yet larger nail set, creating a tiny dome.

Then, the trick was cutting the extra brass from around this domed pivot.

The image at left below shows the pivot, and to indicate scale, the metal shears I used to trim it down to size.

This is not something I recommend, unless your name is Celso Rosa. The resulting pivot is so small, my fingers felt like logs while trying to hold and trim it. But trim it I did, and holding it my a pair of fine tongs, I placed it between the front and back of the star, its pointed ends protruding through the two tiny holds I had drilled in their center.

These holes help wedge the pivot in place, and by gluing all side and top star tips together, I insured that the little pivot wasn't going anywhere.

All that remained to be done was sharpen the end of a fine brass wire to a needle point. This wire was threaded through a cross-shaped support in the chimney to the floor. In fact, I even slightly sharpened that end, as well, so that, after insuring that its perpendicular, it could then be slightly "sunk" to the floor and stay in place.

And now the moment I was waiting for: placing a 5-watt light inside the manger and the star on its perch. And as the Christmas Crib glowed, the star began to turn.

I was mesmerized with the power of a paper construction a a small bulb to create such wonder.

Wondrous Christmas Crib, indeed.

Wishing you the Wonder of Christmas,

—Alexis

 
The original Wunder-Weihnachtskrippe. Notice that the transparent angel window is on the left.  
P.S. — A couple more thoughts…

As you might have guessed, after assembling my first Christmas Crib following the vintage original to the letter, a few alterations came to mind.

Chief among them was reversing the inside wall, which, as shown in the image at left, features the angel window on the left.

This mirror-imaging of the inside wall removed the windows and door at the right from being on top the Mother and Child and Joseph (as shown in the Crèchemania version, at bottom of page). And allowed for some breathing space behind the Holy Family.

Other refinements included making the floor plan completely symmetrical. This allowed for the side walls and roof to fit much better.

You'll also notice the addition of the Magi, which add another dimension to the scene.

And that of the fence at the left, which balances out the one at the right.

 
The Crèchemania remodeling of the Wunder-Weihnachtskrippe features a few changes, including the placing of the angel window at the right. What didn't change is the marvelous star that mesmerizes as it endlessly turns. 

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