Ours is a secular household. This is not unusual in New Zealand which has a determinedly secular government and state. But I do love a nativity set. This may be because we lacked a nativity set entirely in the box of Christmas decorations when I was a child. At some point, Mark and I inherited his mother’s set – referred to now as the Bakelite Holy Family. I am guessing it dates back to the 1940s because bakelite was dropping from common usage at the end of that time. For those too young to remember the bakelite light switches of earlier times, it was one of the early precursors to the plastics of today.
Joseph used to have a tiny lantern that hung from his left hand. To my shame, I vacuumed that up at least 35 years ago. Had I known its absence would bother me down the decades, I would have been more determined in the search through the dustbag of the vacuum cleaner at the time.
Who knew that minimalist nativity scenes have become a thing? Were it not for social media, this new fashion would have escaped my notice entirely. If you type it in to Google, you will find plenty of examples. Some made me laugh out loud.
I do like the stylish glass version, though not enough to buy it. Besides, our house is more maximumist than minimalist so it would not look the same.
This wooden block one reminded me of The Emperor’s New Clothes. An over-priced utilitarian approach with no craftsmanship, masquerading as cutting-edge style. But it made me laugh with its brazen approach.
There are many nicer wooden ones on offer, I see.
But as I entertained myself trawling through photos of minimalist nativity sets, it struck me that it is the composition that is most important. No matter whether coloured balls, cylinders or blocks are used, the central grouping of three is Mary (often in blue), Joseph and Baby Jesus. To the right are the three Magi (being so secular, I had to google whether they were kings or wise men – pretty much interchangeable, it seems, so I settled on the more archaic Magi). To the left there is usually a donkey and a sheep and sometimes there is an angel on the central manger. Unless you are American, in which case you may put the Magi on the left and the animals on the right.
Could I, I wondered, re-create an ephemeral nativity scene using flowers? Mark immediately offered the pineapple offshoots from the Ananas sagenaria for the three Magi. Okay, it is not my finest work but yes, you can re-create the nativity scene in flowers and natural materials and it is still identifiable. Composition and some relativity in scale is all it takes. If any readers feel the desire to re-create their version in flowers, please send me photos to share. I may try again before Christmas to see I can get flowery AND minimalist smart.
I bought a beautifully crafted nativity scene for equally secular Second Daughter who lives in Sydney. Made by a retired toymaker, each figure is whittled from different NZ native timbers. Amusingly, she has a domestic debate with her French partner every year. He is adamant that Baby Jesus cannot be placed until Christmas morning. I have no idea if this is a French custom or whether it is just a tradition from his family but Mark, ever the pedant, pointed out the same logic would apply to the three Magi.
I am not generally one for cute kiddie anecdotes but I did like the story a friend told me of a mother showing a nativity scene to her very small son. He insisted it was not Jesus in the crib, it was Wayne. Why Wayne, you may wonder. “A Wayne in a manger, no crib for a bed… “
Baby Wayne may be slight improvement on Baby Cheesus, do we think?
Finally, I cannot find a high-resolution image of the nativity created from disposable face masks but you get the picture. On Pinterest (where else), you can find the directions for creating rather charming angels for the Christmas tree from face masks. I am not sure how I feel about this manifestation of the times we now live in. Resigned amusement, maybe?