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Crèchemania Blog

Alexis' Christmas 2011 Letter

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Merry Christmas Friends and Season's Greetings to all…

 
Miniatures nativities measuring 3.5 inches wide and weighing about .10 ounces or less hang from the delicate branches of this year's Miniature Crèche Tree. 


 
Play a note, and the Miniature Crèche Tree and its crèches dance on top of the grand piano. 
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It isn't just seven year old Grace and 6 years old Allie dancing on Grandpa Mike's knees, but my Miniature Crèche Tree dancing on the grand piano.

Grace and Allie's dad is accompanying the girls' mom Heidi and me, and as the sound of the piano, violin and alto recorder fill the room my miniature nativities are bobbing up and down to the rhythm of Jingle Bells!

It's really a sight to see. Just below a large icon of the Mother of God tenderly holding the Child Jesus (see photo at left), the slender branches of the Crèche Tree bow ever so slightly only to spring up again with each note.

Never in a million years did I ever imagine that I'd be decorating a wire-and-crystal-bead tree, let alone blogging about it. But this isn't just any wire-and-crystal-bead affair, but a lovely creation I found at my friend Joni's antique shop. I didn't initially buy it as a Christmas tree, but as a prop for a jewelry book shoot. Then, about a week ago, I found it in a corner of my studio.

During my shoot, its delicate branches had proven ever so delicate, even for the lightest earrings ‚ so what I was I planning to decorate it with, exactly? Feather ornaments?

The answer? Miniature nativities, of course! But miniature-light-as-a-feather-nativities, because you breathe into those slender wire branches and they bend.

I thought 3.5-inch-wide miniatures might do the job — small enough to hand, large enough to show off the art. I cut an outline of a nativity on a blank piece of the paper that I am going to use to print, then I cut the manger and side walls. A quick hole through the lot, and I hang the pieces of paper on the tip of a branch.

Bingo! The branch lowers ever so slightly in a graceful curve, but does not bend. So this is the magic weight, that my postal scale reads as less than .05 ounces. The string! I forgot about the hanging part. OK, .10 ounces with the string. (See what my excitement is all about: Crèchemania Miniature Nativities Collection 1)

Deciding on which nativities to design as miniatures isn't easy, and not only because I have so many favorites. The real problem is which candidates among the many in the Crèchemania Collection will look good in a small scale.

You might have printed a nativity at an extremely reduced size, only to discover your beautiful créche turned to a muddy mess? After all, how many pixels can really squeeze in 3.5 inches?

The answer, I knew, would be to choose a nativity of light color and simple design, and I knew just the one: a charming crèche whose manger is reminiscent of a brick schoolhouse: the Heureux Noël Miniature Nativity was born.

 
The Heureux Noël Miniature Nativity is so light it seems to float. 
The Heureux Noël nativity — named for the "Merry Christmas" greeting in French of the vintage original — was also the perfect candidate for a cellophane window, just like the ones that glistened in those small Christmas tree houses of my youth.

Suspended from a string of lights, they dazzled my eyes from shop windows when I was growing up in Greece. But times were tough, and my father could scarcely afford shoes for us, let alone Christmas decorations. But, for a few drachmas, he could buy a nativity sheet for me. With a few color pencils, I would make another copy on cardboard, so that my little brother would have his very own. Then we'd set about cutting and pasting, using flour and water for glue.

That time of my youth when we had so little has been running through my mind as I've been making miniatures and listening to Christmas hymns piped over the Web from Greece. Sadly, that's not all that's been coming out of Greece lately: the airwaves and TV are filled with news of the economic crisis that has Greece in its grip.

Then a note comes to touch my heart and remind me that bad times aren't limited to the land of my birth:

I found your website today and I just wanted to say "Thank you so much!". This Christmas we are on such a limited budget. My children were so sad that we could not buy gifts for their grandparents, teachers, etc. Your free downloads for nativity scenes are so beautiful that we are going to make them as gifts for our loved ones. My daughters are so happy now to have a truly beautiful and meaningful gift to give. Thank you for sharing these wonderful downloads.

We started to make a few of the nativity scenes yesterday and they are looking wonderful. We did one in a shadow box and we are making another as sort of a diorama. We have an idea to make a very tiny one in an Altoids box, which should be fun and challenging. My girls and I are having a wonderful time.


I had to write back.

 
A precious nativity scene, the vintage Whitman Manger Scene, a special present for an 11- and 14-year-old brand-new crèche enthusiasts. 
Dear Sir,

The thought of you and your girls creating your Christmas presents this year touched my heart.

I grew up poor in a village in Greece, and my parents worked hard to keep us fed and clothed. At the farmers' market my mom and dad sold olive oil, onions, and burlap bags full of oregano to make ends meet.

Do you know how much oregano it takes to fill a bag? Lots, and lots, and lots of trips to the mountainside by my mother, brothers, sisters, and me!

And do you know how much money a burlap bag would fetch? A few drachmas (about 50 cents). Just about enough for a nativity sheet that my dad bought for me and which I copied with a few colored pencils on cardboard — so that my little brother could have a nativity too. We’d cut and paste — with huge shears and flour glue! — and on Christmas Eve place our nativities by the oil lamp, next to the icon stand, and fall asleep dreaming of Christmas.

I’m so delighted that you and your girls have discovered the joy I learned as a little boy, the joy I learned of drawing a nativity for my younger brother, the joy of giving something you create with your own hands.

That’s why I’m sending you what I consider a most precious nativity, the vintage Whitman punch-out book that I first discovered in 1965 when I first came to America and that is responsible for Crèchemania.com. May you and your daughters enjoy assembling it into a family crèche that, in better years to come, you’ll treasure and remember the Christmas spent together cutting and pasting.

With best wishes for a Very Merry Christmas,

—Alexis


Besides receiving touching emails, I've also been getting letters stuffed with money. And that hasn't happened since I was a kid, when I'd get $10 dollars for Christmas from my sister Anna in Australia.

This letter is from Germany, from enthusiast Roger Lorenz who, not having a credit card, wishes to pay for a Premium Download with cash, and writes tongue-in-cheek:

Hello Alexis,

Thank you, the Christmas Lantern is amazing. For all the European economic crisis we took our last five Euros for this Christmas present. But, "Yes, we can?" Fun must be!

What about the windows of St. Stephan in Mainz from Marc Chagall as your next edition?

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Roger


 
Perfectly complementing the Miniature Crèche Tree — not to mention the decor — the 91-year-old Augsburg Crib. 
Thank you, Roger. I've got to add Mainz to my itinerary. I wonder; is it far from Augsburg? That's where I found my latest nativity which you see at the foot of my Miniature Crèche Tree, a perfect complement to it's rusty wire look. And no wonder: the Augsburg Crib is over 91-years-old.

Pasted on the thinnest veneer and lovingly cut out with a fine jig saw, the Augsburg Crib is mounted on wood that has aged so beautifully it matches the artwork. Another point of interest is that the Holy Family of this nativity scene is reminiscent of the stained glass window of St. John Cantius in Chicago. But the Augsburg Crib theme is the Adoration of the Shepherds, not of the Magi.

Holding the Augsburg crib in my hands takes me back many years, when I was student at 6th Elementary School in Pyrgos, Elias, about 20 miles from Olympia. I, too, used to mount printed nativity sheets on plywood, cut them with a primitive jig saw, and create nativity scenes.

I remember my friend Giannoulis and I using our Christmas caroling money to buy a square foot or two of plywood, and do a quick paste of the sheet, and start sawing away.

We weren't alone. Deep in the darkness below, Kallikantzaroi , the scary trolls of Greek folklore, are on a mission to cut down the trunk of the tree that supports the earth. Thank goodness that, with their task almost completed, Christmas comes and they abandon their saws to cause mischief above ground.

By the time they return to their job, the tree trunk has grown solid again, and they're at it again for another year.

Will my boyhood friend Giannoulis going to do as well? Sawing that is, one of my favorite nativity sheets, the Paper Model Kiosk's Theater Nativity that is on its way to him as I write these words?

 
When my boyhood friend Giannoulis is not working on his cuckoos around the clock, he loves spending time at his country home with his wife Yiota, and sons Vassilis and Demetris. 
Paper nativities don't get any better than this re-issue of the classic paper model by German publisher J. F. Schreiber. The Theater Nativity, as its name implies, unfolds on a stage, behind a proscenium decorated with a Greek pediment and featuring an eight-pointed star and red curtains. Below the stage, at the front, an angelic orchestra is serenading the Newborn Child with voice, violin and recorder.

I wonder if Giannoulis will mount his nativity on plywood — as we used to do so long ago? I he does, it might not be for a while, because he's knee-deep in cuckoo clocks just now. He's been repairing the two I gave him last time I visited, trying to get the bellows to work. His wonderful wife,a great cook and English teacher, tells me that he's been laying awake at night counting the cuckoos.

I can just see him, soon, though, with his demitasse cup of Greek coffee sitting under the shade of the plane tree that shades his whole yard, cutting away on his Theater Nativity.

Giannoulis regularly keeps me in touch with the land of my birth with his frequent letters that sometimes include a crèche, like the vintage Greek Arched Nativity that he found on the top dusty shelf of a dime store.

Besides Giannoulis' there are so many more warm letters I would love to share with you, so many wonderful photos — like Celso Rosa's latest superb monastery nativity installation — that I just might have to write to you again soon.

But I can't give you my season's greetings without passing on the wishes of Mario Pirola, an enthusiast from Italy and the get the Crèchemania Miniature Nativity Collection:

If at Christmas each star was granted a wish, I wish the sky was full of stars
If a gift at Christmas was a clear day, then distribute thousands and thousands of gifts
If at Christmas around the world finds a smile, then I would ask only that it was still Christmas
Congratulations from the heart for a Happy and Peaceful Christmas

Se a Natale ogni stella fosse un desiderio esaudito, vorrei che il cielo fosse pieno di stelle
Se a Natale ogni dono fosse un giorno sereno allora distribuirei mille e mille doni
Se a Natale ogni angolo del mondo trovasse un sorriso allora chiederei soltanto che fosse sempre Natale
Auguri di cuore di un felice e sereno Natale.

Mario and Luisa


Buon Natale to you and Luisa, Mario.

And Merry Christmas to you, my friends!

With thanks for your friendship and support, and Season's Greetings to all,

AYX

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