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Christmas Day 2008

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The snow lay on the ground,
The stars shone bright,
When Christ our Lord was born
On Christmas night.

The words of this lovely carol echo in my mind this Christmas morning. A soft, white blanket covers the Midwest, making the trees look like rock candy.

It's a time to light the fireplace and fill the house with mouth-watering aromas from the kitchen, with family, friends, and music.

With our friend, composer Dan Goeller, at the piano, and a violin and two recorders as soloists, we almost went through our entire Christmas carols book. When it was time for dessert, we listened to his CD The Word Became Flesh, a large, choral-orchestral work of the Nativity story with narrated text.

The piece is oratorio in scale, but smaller sections can be performed by smaller choirs without the orchestral accompaniment. And it uses traditional carols, and so audiences can take part in the performance, so we raised our voices in song.

With so much happening around me, I almost forgot to open my Christmas presents, including a wonderful present given to me by my Godson Benjamin.

It’s this Crèchemania Blog that I very much look forward to sharing with you, beginning with this first posting on Christmas Day, 2008.

Just a few nights ago I found myself at St. Joseph Cathedral, not far from my home, in semi-darkness, surrounded by glorious music and song. This cathedral restoration benefit concert also included beautiful compositions and arrangements by Dan Goeller, whose Christmas Festival of Carols accompanies our popular Crèche Tree video.

Dan’s melodies and arrangements filled the cavernous church — and the heart. And the Bishop’s words? They touched the soul: “Art is silent contemplation,” he said, pointing to one of the panels of the Stations of the Cross that had been restored.

Stripped of its decades-old whitewash that had rendered it almost invisible, it now featured the softest coloration that made the scene of The Passion come alive.

I looked up, high above the nave, and I could almost make out the outlines of a round relief of the Nativity. Imagining it in its restored glory, I found myself not being able to avert my eyes, could not get the image of a polychrome Nativity out of my mind.

I am sure if crèche enthusiast Joke Louw were with me she’d be doing the same thing: “Today I’m intending to make another creche,” she writes from the Netherlands, “and I cannot keep my mind off thinking of it.”

“Art is silent contemplation,” indeed. And what beautiful art it is, this personal art of ours—the art of the paper crèche. Fellow enthusiast Julian Scicluna of Malta is not alone in extolling the beauty of one of the latest additions of the Crèchemania collection, the Swallows Crèche: “It’s Christmas Day and I just had to see again that beautiful Swallows Crèche that you shared with us,” he writes.

I have spent part of my Christmas vacation fulfilling the request of many of you to photograph more of the crèches in my collection. In fact, I realize that my new Blog would be the ideal platform to inform you of the latest additions to our online Crèche Gallery, like the Grecian Urn Crèche, and the Sickle Nativity.

Julian is not alone in noticing that, “Somehow the Swallows Crèche looked familiar, and now I realize that at least four figures—the two shephards, the angel, and Mary are the same as in the paper crib I recreated last year. So the German printing company must have created a series of these cribs.”

Yes, Julian, and those variations are as varied and wonderful as Dan Goeller’s musical ones. Just look at the the two versions of the Alpine Crèche. Julian asks, “Have you got the separate elements of the Swallows Crèche crib digitally scanned?” If so do you think you can email them so that I can reproduce them?”

That’s one wish I might not be able to fulfill, Julian. I would have to take it all apart, and only do that for friends who knock on my door! (Read about Celso Rosa’s housecall to repair his Alpine Nativity.)

Below the Equator, in Brazil, Celso has been— what else—tanning at the beach. But not before he completed his annual extensive installation at a monastery near his home.

I’m including one of the images he shared with me so you can see how this Brazilian enthusiast lovingly recreates his tableau dioramas.

Celso’s 3-dimensional nativities echo those in the prodigious collection of James L. Govan, author of Art of the Creche: Nativities from Around the World.

Proceeds from Jim’s book continue to support needy students, and his collection continues to be very much in demmand for exhibition around the country. It will once again come to the the Loyola University Museum of Art in Chicago, where I first met this gentle man.

“I can just sense the excitement and warmth at your home at Christmas,” Jim writes. “It even reaches me here in Virginia (the events in Athens notwithstanding.”

Jim is referring to the riots that have recently scarred the Greek capital, other cities, and the Greek psyche. Even today—if this can be true—riot police repotedly are guarding the new national Christmas tree outside Parliament from being torched—again.

There were no Christmas trees in the village where I was born. Instead, Christmas was announced by the beautiful Byzantine hymns that, along with the precious icons, comprise one of Orthodoxy's treasures:

Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, has shone upon the world with the light of knowledge. For thereby, they who adored the stars through a star were taught to worship Thee, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know Thee, the Dayspring from on high. O Lord, glory to Thee.

In that small village church of the Panagia (The Church of the Virgin) I remember looking at the icon of the Nativity then with no less wonder than I did just the other night at that of the Cathedral’s high relief. Just look at the Raphael Madonna Crèche, inspired by the Italian master's masterpiece, and you’ll feel it, too:

There are still a couple of hours left before the short drive to Benjamin’s house for Christmas dinner: time to print and cut out one more last Icon Card? I’ll be doing so, thinking of you, and Joke, who writes:

“Alexis, I would like to thank you for your Christmas letter and the nice Christmas Icon Card. This year I’ve not made up many creches, but a few years ago I sent out creches to my friends and family.

"Last Sunday, at a birthday party, I saw that my sister-in-law had displayed them again. And yesterday when I visited a friend I saw another crèche I made. It was nice to see that they saved them and displayed them again.

“Also I want to thank Lisa for the scan she sent. I’ve made one up and it is lovely. Today I’m intending to make another crèche. I cannot keep my mind of thinking of it.

“I wish you a Good Christmas Day, and will end with a picture made in 2001 when I was making a crèche. I had to put it away when I needed my table for dinner. By the way, my young cat also loved the creche!

"Merry Christmas to you, Joke."

Merry Christmas, Joke, and to all of you, whom I look forward to addressing again, soon, in my new Blog. And I would like to extend an invitation to you to do the same: just write your comments in the box at the bottom of this page and click Post Comment.

And we'd love to see you! Please don't forget to add your photo in your profile.

Keep in touch, Alexis

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