A soldier celebrates Christmas in Iraq with a nativity from home
The Virgin holds her Newborn Baby in her tender embrace, and Santa holds a horseshoe—symbol of good luck—adorned with four-leaf clovers, a yellow ribbon—and Forrest Womack?
|West Point Graduate Forrest Womack is framed by a golden horseshoe and four leaf-clovers—symbols of good luck—in this rendition of a 1950s Greek Christmas card. (Mouseover the image above to see the card front.)|| |
|An Egyptian Crèche for Forrest.|| |
There were no Christmas presents, and certainly no Santa Claus in my Greek village. Greek children receive their presents from St. Basil, who visits on his Feast Day, January 1st.
But even on New Year's, money was dear, and my sisters might have received a few strands of embroidery. My younger brother and I a nativity scene to cut out, assemble, and set on the window sill, to be bathed by the soft light of an oil lamp.
It's a ritual I carried with me to the New World. Unable to speak English those first few years, I would spend the long Midwest winters cutting and pasting—mostly Whitman Manger Scenes.
Decades later, here I am again, X-acto knife in hand. But this time, it's not a nativity scene at all, but a replica of a 1950 pop-up Greek Christmas card (see photos, top of page). Its destination? Not a window sill, but faraway Iraq, a present for a young soldier whose letter I received just before Thanksgiving:Dear Sir,
I could never express adequate gratitude for the beautiful paper crèche you have graciously sent me. Nevertheless, thank you a thousand times.
Its beauty is twofold: the intrinsic beauty overshadowed only by its sacramental beauty. I'm sure you can grasp the significance and immensity of such a gift to one who is isolated, and in this place seemingly alienated, from a true and proper celebration of the Nativity.
I have not yet assembled the crèche, as I am waiting from Advent, but I look forward in anticipation to the joy and reflection it will bring me as I prepare my soul and heart for Christmas.
I am astonished and awestruck at just how lovely and lovingly detailed this crèche is, and I am impatient to see how it will look when I assemble it, having no doubt about its power to inspire, as you said.
I am furthermore humbled by your generosity, sir, and can find nothing else to say but thank you, and once more, thank you. I am forever indebted to you, and I promise to write again at Christmas time once I have enjoyed the full blessings of this precious Ram's Crèche.
Dominus Vobiscum [God Be With You]
|Forrest took Baby Jesus from his childhood crèche with him to Afghanistan.|| |
Forrest's mother, Syler, a member of our Crèche Guild, had, "Discovered the Crechemania site earlier this year, and it has become a heartstring family link for all of us with each other and with my son, who is serving in the army.
"Forrest called this morning from Kuwait. He is deploying with the American army to Iraq tomorrow, and will not be home for a year. As when he served in Afghanistan, I gave him Baby Jesus from my childhood crèche to take with him, but there was no time to do the same before he went to Iraq...
"Then I remembered the wonderful pop-up paper crèches we used to see long ago. I wondered if it were still possible to find them—and found your site!
"My son has had a fascination for crèches, and for assembling miniatures, all his life. As a sophomore at West Point, he actually constructed a model of the battle of Zama, complete with little paper elephants, and a little paper Hannibal and Scipio.
"Finding Crechemania was literally the answer to a prayer. Iwill be able to include one of your wonderful downloadable crèches in his letters during Advent. Forrest's faith is everything to him, and a crèche would be a continual source of comfort to him. And who can be homesick during Christmas when the most important part of Christmas is right there with him?
"Thank you so much, and all of your wonderful members of the Crèche Guild whose hearts are fine and pure enought to appreciate these delicate treasures."
I wrote Syler that anyone who has constructed Hannibal and his elephants—not to mention Scipio Africanus!—deserves the finest printout, from my original files. (Downloads, due to server file-size-limits are no match for the originals.)
As Christmas approaches, somewhere in what I first knew as the Fertile Crescent, the land of once-mythical kingdoms bordered by the storied Tigris and Euphrates, a young soldier will take out a sheet of paper and create a nativity.
May it touch his heart just as much as his letter has touched mine.
With Warm Christmas Wishes,—Alexis