For The Dialog
Centreville, Md., pastor blesses parishioners Christmas creches at the beginning of Advent
CENTREVILLE, Md. — Brooke Sullivan and Dan Solloway put up Nativity sets they have known all their lives for a blessing at Our Mother of Sorrows parish hall Dec. 4.
Except for the scene and figures in it, each set looked completely different.
Brooke’s is made of thick wood cuts, with details of each character — baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the magi, etc. — applied to the wood. The 9-year-old and her parents received the set as a gift six or seven years ago, when Brooke was very young.
Solloway’s figurines are much smaller, hand-painted, and more detailed plaster or ceramic pieces, with the stable constructed from a shoebox by one of his siblings. His parents bought the set from “a Ben Franklin Five and Dime in Brooklyn” when Solloway, who turns 72 in January, was a toddler.
Their sets were among about 40 blessed by Father Clem Manista, pastor. They represented a broad range of nativity scenes, such as one using Little People, near one from olive wood from the Holy Land, a stuffed doll-like set, another of wood carved in Kenya, and exquisite ceramic pieces that had been carefully wrapped for transport.
“This is the first time we’ve done this,” said Mary Wood, director of religious education. She brought a German hand-carved set her family purchased while living in Germany.
The idea evolved after an informal survey earlier this year that included asking what sacramental items — that suggest a religious dimension or tenet — parishioners had in their homes, Wood said. One of the most popular was nativity sets.
Father Manista explained that St. Francis of Assisi started the tradition of crèche scenes. “It’s a very interesting thing we’re doing this day, blessing Nativity sets,” he said. Through the sets the mystery of God becoming man comes alive.
He set up one of the 20 or so Nativity scenes he has accumulated over the years, all of which he puts on display in his home at Christmas.
Indicative of the broad range of crèche scenes available were three that John Micek brought. One, which is “at least 50 years old,” is an heirloom of his wife Diane’s family; another in Mexican style, and a third wooden stick figures from Nigeria. “We didn’t buy it in Kenya,” he said, though they did by the Mexican crèche scene on a trip to Mexico.
The Miceks now have at least 10 sets, he said, all of which are displayed in their home for Christmas. Each helps him “reflect really on what the season means. You have to stop and take a minute and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.”
Madison Darrah and her mother, Lisa, have one of the larger sets displayed. “We have it over the fireplace, so you can see it when you walk in,” Madison said. Theirs was on display between the olive wood and Little People scenes.
Father Manista was surprised by Solloway’s set, which he said was “the same scene as one I had growing up in Wilmington.” That Manista family crèche remains in the family, with his sister, Father Manista said later.
Solloway’s set has a similar history. Seeing the set takes him back to Christmases past, to a time when the celebration was much different than now. He remembers how the unadorned tree was set up over a stand that held tracks for a Christmas train, but the train and crèche scene were not to be seen and the tree remained undecorated through Christmas Eve.
When he and his siblings awoke Christmas morning, they found the tree decorated, the train running, and the crèche scene underneath the tree, along with presents. “It was done by Santa Claus,” Solloway said with a smile.
“And a few angels,” Father Manista added, referring to both Solloway’s and his own parents.
It seemed an appropriate thought, since most of the Nativity scenes set up at Our Mother of Sorrows included angels heralding the birth of Jesus.