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"The Snow lay on the ground, the stars shone bright…“ Merry Christmas, Everyone!

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Greek High School student Níke among the Crèchemania nativities she loves to create — (from left) the Flower Nativity, Svatava's Nativity, The Rams Crèche, and Celso Rosa's Arches Crèche — at the Art Department of Piraeus High School No. 9. (Photo courtesy Kyriakí Potóglou.)
 


By way of the Czech Republic and Svatava Vizinová, the Midwest and Crèchemania, to Piraeus, Greece, where a hand-made crèche decorates Kyriakí Potóglou's Christmas tree — Svatava's Nativity.
Outside the snow is falling, the wind blowing, and the forecast is for the worst storm in the Midwest since 1968.

But inside Crèchemania's attic the radiators are turned on full blast, and an invisible current of warm, rising, air is turning the tin wheel hidden inside the Angelic Host Crèche, causing a choir of angels to fly in circles above the Nativity.

This slow, hypnotic, angelic procession floats by along with images of childhood Christmases past, in far-away Greece: baking sweet koulourákia cookies; singing the kálanda (Greek carols) door-to-door; making a crèche from a nativity sheet my father would give me at Christmas.

A caring teacher, a gifted student
After many decades of calling the Midwest home, Greece still tugs at my heart. So you can imagine how thrilled I was to receive a note, prefaced in Greek, and sent from the port of Piraeus:

"Γειά σου Αλέξη [Hello Alexis],

My name is Kyriakí Potóglou, and I'm a professor of Fine Arts. I have shown your site to my students. They're very excited — and they want to make all of those nativities.

I'm sending you a photo (see left) of a crèche I made from your site, for my Χριστουγεννιάτικο δένδρο [Christmas tree] in my home. Crèche-making is such an interesting activity for everyone. I Thank you, and all your good friends, for these crèche Christmas gifts, and the pleasant, creative moments you have given us. Regards from Greece. Just sign me a fool for fátnes [nativites]."

I was excited. I sent Kyriakí a note asking for photos, and it didn't take long for her to respond. "I am trying to get permission from the principal of the school," she writes, "so I could send you photos documenting our art students' Crèchemania experience."

A few days later Kyriaki made good on her promise and sent me the photo of Níke, who's smiling (see top of page) among the nativities she has created at her school.


Níke doing what she loves — being creative.
"Nike is one of my best students and a Crèchemania fan," Kyriakí writes, "and I have received written permission from her parents — after showing them your site — for you to use her photo on Crechemania.com.

"Nike is not the only student that created natitivities. Many students were enthusiastic with your site, but our school is on Christmas break, and I could not get permission from other parents."

Could Kyriakí also get a quote or two from Níke?

The next day, Kyriakí obliged. "I have a great relationship with art," fourteen-year-old Níke writes, "and I very much like working on artistic projects. These crèches inspired me this Christmas season when people are celebrating the birth of Jesus. I like to make people smile, have them be happy with my art, my drawings and the crèches I score, cut, and glue together. The nativities have certainly made an impression on my parents and my classmates!

"What I like most is how a single piece of paper transforms into a three-dimensional construction. People tell me they make wonderful holiday decorations, and I'm telling everybody who asks that I found them on Crèchemania."

Thank you, Níke, for your kind words. And thank you, Kyriakí, for being a caring, encouraging teacher.

A Byzantine Nativity — Or make that two
Kyriakí also sent me a photo of a large Byzantine crèche standing outside the Piraeus Cathedral of Agia Triáda (The Holy Trinity), and I was admiring it when another Byzantine Nativity reached me.

Unlike the Piraeus Cathedral Nativity, this one can be held in the palm of your hand (see photo, below left). "I have built models since childhood, primarily plastic," writes Major Charles Davenport, USAF (Retired), well-known in the paper modeling community for his magazine columns and his tenure as president of the International Plastics Modeler's Society/USA Branch.


Paper Model Enthusiast Charles Davenport with his Byzantine Nativity that, he says, "Seems to glow!"
"When my wife Gay and I returned from Korea in 1989, I stumbled into paper models. My modeling "stuff" was in storage, we had a baby on the way, and I am not one to cruise bars or twiddle my thumbs. Paper models offered unique subjects that cannot be found in any other modeling medium, and required no special tools or equipment, so here I am building them still.

"Raised Catholic, crèches and manger scenes were a part of growing up. I remember building a manger for the ceramic figures my parents had made when I was a teen. When I saw how beautifully your crèches were, I just had to download a few.

"I have received many compliments on the Byzantine creche. It really is a vibrant piece. Frankly, I am surprised that some of the more complicated Crèchemania ones are not for sale — I would certainly buy them.

"The really important thing I did was to have Kinko's print the files on their semi-gloss card stock.The inks are stable, vibrant, and the paper is wonderful to work with. Lit from above and the front, the colors of the Byzantine Crèche seem to glow!*It's no photographic trick; that's how it really appears! It is stunning, and I think I may give some of the crèches as gifts next year."

Charles has been spreading the word about Crèchemania crèches on the Internet with the words, "”Beautiful to behold, simple to construct — and Free!“ What a catchy phrase. I'll have to give it some serious thought abut patenting it.

Thanks for your compliments and your support, Charles!


Making a nativity for Mother, every year — Rosanna Prezzavento with her Post Crèche and nativity-maker daughter, Chiara.
A Christmas present for Mother
It seems that Charles' idea of giving crèches as presents is catching on.

"Dear Alexis," writes Chiara Prezzavento, from Italy, where the crèche was born, "Every year I make a different creche for my mother Rosanna as a Christmas "surprise." She knows she'll have one, but she doesn't know what it will be.

I've always used terracotta or wood figurines, but I happened on your wonderful website while surfing for toy theatres, and I thought your crèches would make for a nice change. Moreover, Mother often tells me of the paper creches they used to have when she was a little child, just after the war, so I'm sure she'll love your crèche.

The only dilemma I have now is I really don't know which one to chose: they are all so lovely! Thank you again. Best wishes for a Happy Christmas and New Year."

Chiara lives in a small village, not far from Mantua, where, she writes, "We have a good number of Christmas traditions. During Advent, children go door to door to sing carols. Our most famous and tradiional carols is perhaps "Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle," (You Come To Us From The Stars), a sixteenth century carol describing the nativity. On Christmas Eve, we have a simple meal of polenta (a sort of corn poridge) and marinated fish.

Traditionally, the table is not laid for this meal: every member of the family comes to the kitchen and quickly eats, without even sitting down, as a symbol for the waiting in Bethlehem.

At night, instead,*we lay the table with much care, and the whole family gathers around it, as the youngest member of the household sprinkles everyone with holy water, and pronounces a blessing. (This has been my task for many years, now).

Then we have a traditional dinner of tortelli (pasta with a stuffing of pumpkin, macaroni and fruit in a pickle of mustard), roasted fish, cheese, candied fruit, nuts, and panettone (a soft cake with raisins and candied orange peel in it).

Then we go to Mass at midnight: usually, it is a beautiful mass, sung by a choir, sometimes in Latin. In our tiny village church, we always end the mass singing "Adeste Fideles" ("Oh, Come All Ye faithful"), and then hurry home. In some places, it is traditional to have a second, very late dinner of hot soup or trippa (a stew of cooked entrails with bread), but we content ourselves with a cup of mulled wine!

One special, very old tradition is that we leave the table laid the whole night, for our dead to come and celebrate in their old house. On Christmas Day, there's Mass again, at 11 in the morning, which is usually mostly attended by men and children, since women are busy preparing the traditional lunch of agnoli (another sort of pasta with a meat stuffing), boiled meat, cotechino (a sort of big, soft sausage that needs cooking), several vegetables and panettone. In the afternoon, traditionally, families play games or visit churches to see sacred representations, or to hear concerts.

And that's it, in my corner of Italy. "


Celso Rosa with Fernanda and Felipe at his Monastery exhibition.

Don't let the pergola, climbing rose, and fallen petals fool you — this is not Celso's balcony, but one of his beautiful architectural settings for his crèche installation. (Visual clue: the window blinds at far right.)

Would you have known this was a scale model? Incredible detail and authenticity, right down to the weeds growing through the cracks. (Photos courtesy Celso Rosa.)
South of the Equator
"The seasons here in Brazil are the opposite from North America and Europe due our location below the Equator," writes Clube Amigos do Presepio founder Celso Rosa. "When it is winter in the USA and Europe, we are in the beach down here. There is no snow in our Brazilian winter, only a few flurries in the extreme south of the country. Our Christmas is hot and Santa Claus usually comes wearing a red T-shirt and Bermudas. (Just kidding!)

"My family was always very religious, and crèches were always present in our home. I remember my brother and I wanting to decorate our house for Christmas in the beginning of November, and my mother always saying that we should wait, that it was still too early.

"We were anxiously waiting for the day when she would decide that it was time for putting up the Christmas tree and the crèche. In time, the Christmas tasks were divided between my brother and myself, and I was always the one to put up the crèche."

"I'm sending you some pictures of what I have been doing. This year I am going to do a Neapolitan-style creche. I created and painted every detail: tiles, bricks, doors, windows, fences, etc.

"I have created more buildings, and I'm still working on my display, and I have to finish it tomorrow. I will be in the Monastery on Thursday and Friday. After this I may have some time to send you some pictures to be posted in your blog. But I still have lot of things to do... I Hope it turns out nice when I put it all together."

Nice?

Just look at the Celso's handiwork, at left. When I saw the weeds growing out of the marble steps (bottom photo, at left) I knew the man has more patience than Job. Bravo, Celso!

Christmas 2009
Outside the snow keeps falling, and the stillness is only punctuated by the sound of of the wind blowing through the glazed tree branches.

But the storm is not what's on the mind of a young girl at our Christmas Eve gathering: what she's worried about is worried about is weather Santa Claus is going to make it. Certainly not if he's driving or flying commercial. But Santa, we pointed out reassuringly, has his own mode of transportation.

Then I received this message from John F. E. Steger, the friend from the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, in Dyersville, Iowa:

"Dear Alexis,

Unless you have a good team of reindeer, travel in these parts is certainly not recommended. Right now there is about a half-inch thick sheet of ice on all of the streets and sidewalks. Even walking is treacherous.

But I have been in the Basilica earlier in this day and I can report that the elves who do the decoration have outdone themselves. The sanctuary is full of poinsettias, the garlands are hung from the pillars, walls and choir loft, the angels are hung from the large lanterns, the crib scene is erected in front of St. Joseph's altar, and the Wise Men are
in the very last pew of the church just starting their trek to the Bethlehem scene.

Have a Merry Christmas and attend your place of worship to recognize the reason as to just why we have all of this celebration.

Your Dyersville friend, John F. E. Steger"

Leave it to Jennifer Hooton — who has contributed so many Crèche Downloads — to share, "A sweet prayer written by classic 19th century author Robert Louis Stevenson. I has become a tradition in our home to read it each Christmas, and I hope you will enjoy it in your homes as well. It beautifully invokes the true meaning of Christmas:

Help us rightly to remember the birth of Jesus,
That we may share in the song of the angels,
The gladness of the shepherds,
And the worship of the Wise Men…


Every year I sit down to write my Christmas Letter, and every year, Dear Friends, you end up writing it for me.

With Warmest Wishes for a Very Merry Christmas,

—Alexis

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