Creches from the United States

Faceless Beauty
Wava Best

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and not necessarily in the face of the person we see. The expressions of a face may detract from the beauty of a gesture and the elegance of a pose. Wava Best is hiding beauty in a variety of details: the gnarled trunk of a palm tree, the pudgy hands of an infant angel, the camel’s meditative snout speaking volumes of wisdom, or the wise men’s robes strewn with intertwined floral, foliate, and geometric figures. There seems to be one exception. The baby is but a formless bundle. The representation is reminiscent of early Christian iconography. Wrapped in swaddling clothes from head to toe, the Christchild’s true origin remained hidden. It remains hidden in this representation, too. It remains hidden to the eye but not to the hearts of angels, animals, parents, and wise men.




Christmas Comics
Jim Shore

The set reflects a new tendency in the U.S. Christmas culture. Jim Shore created this nativity set with painted figures for Enesco. The tradition of painted figures is part of a long history going back to pre-Columbian times. It slowly evolved from figures decorated with floral or geometric ornaments to sculptures showing tableaus of plants, animals, and entire landscapes. Subsequent development brought narratives into play when individual figures became the visual carrier of a whole story or shared in the story with other figures as suggested in our nativity set. Indeed, major episodes of the Christmas story can be “read” on each one of the figures. This tradition is well-known and was widely disseminated in Latin American countries.



Gerry Wallace

White, tall, and nondescript. Isn't this the overall impression that emerges when looking at this nativity? A fleeting glance may easily become a lasting impression. Before it happens, take another look.

The ten figures stand tall against a solemn curtain of black-and-white drapery. At their feet there is gold, both yellow and red. And, although their individual identity is not immediately evident, we intuit that each one of these personages takes part in a sacred drama. Sacred drama veils and unveils. But at all times the mystery remains intact. Here lies the meaning of this seemingly nondescript Christmas scene. There is more than faceless characters here. Isn't it as if the whole figure was shrouded in mystery? Meaning some of the mystery that only God himself can unveil for us, and which we recognize as such in faith. True mystery never wears down. It instills lightness in the soul as suggested with the dreamy arabesque decorations that ornate some of the figures.



Sealed Scroll
Pelagia Bonniwell

These are Raku people, named after a Japanese earthenware going back to the fifteenth/sixteenth century and well-known for its rough and dark glaze.  The artist has brightened the looks of her people by dressing them in caps and gowns of enamel-like colors.  Among them is a shrunken old lady.  The traits of her face speak volumes of wisdom acquired in years of wear and tear.  She holds an oversized scroll, rolled and of bright red color, which she is taking to the cradle.  It represents the hidden meaning of human existence, tightly wrapped and sealed.  There is hope that the Christ child will unseal and decipher the puzzles of life. 



Child Prodigies
Linda d’Addario, sculptor
Jane Macdonald, dress
Artists for Hestia Creations

Christmas lore knows no boundaries. It puts the holy family under a thatched roof but places sheep, shepherds and camel on a lustrous landing of pure gold. The artist has also added two figures which ordinarily steer clear of paupers and beasts. We notice, at some distance from the manger, the presence of Saint Nicholas of Myra and Mozart. What an odd couple, indeed!

But here they are, child prodigies, to pay tribute to one of their own. As legend goes, only three days after birth Nicholas stands upright in his bathtub, and distributes his entire fortune at a tender age to the poor. He is even better known for throwing three golden balls into the home of three impoverished maidens, allowing them to marry well. Mozart, the other child prodigy, showed exceptional musical talent at an early age, and was taken--only six years old--on a concert tour of Europe by his father. He not only composed some six hundred complete works, but was also a generous man, often depleting his own resources to help out a friend. The third child prodigy is the Christ child. We don't know about any physical prowess or artistic talents of his, but he was similarly generous: he gave his life and reputation to be one of us.



Pin People
Rita Chiavacci

In this set the habitual representatives of the nativity event are in good and richly varied company. We have a cross-section of many aspects of American life and culture. Indians greet Amish, the UPS man holds hands with the Post mistress. The Wizard dispatched some of his most faithful followers, Dorothy and the Witch. Scarlet and Rhett are not gone with the wind, but join in with Uncle Sam, the square dancers and a lonely clown. Public life is represented with a sheriff, a state trooper and navy, marine and air force personnel. Santa, toy soldiers and carolers remind us of different ways to celebrate Christmas. Even Our Lady of Fatima is part of the colorful gathering.

Pin people, made of old rounded clothespins, snippets of fabric and pipe cleaners, are simple people. They are a reminder of life's ordinariness. Pin people are dressed up clothespins, no more, no less. Behind our many faces and checkered individualities there is the simple and ordinary myself. To forget this would make us lesser selves. Remembering it is healing power.



Jack Black

In 1931, Auguste Piccard became the first to reach the stratosphere in a pressurized cabin. "The sky is beautiful up here," he wrote. "It is almost black, a bluish purple a deep violet shade, ten times darker than on earth, but it still is not quite dark enough to see the stars."

The setting of Jack Black's Christmas scene pays tribute to the conquest of the skies. Engulfed in the black and blue immensity of the universe, the square and sturdy home of the Holy Family sails through space, taking in tow all other figures which make up the odyssey of Christ's coming. The flying fortress is heading for a region where the skies are dark enough to see the stars. And as we watch, we somehow know that soon it will disappear from our field of vision, and enter the starlit depth of our own soul. So there is no reason for the blues! Christ conquers without destroying; he sometimes conquers without our knowing and realizing: "If I climb the heavens, you are there," says the Psalmist. He also says: "If I lie in the grave, you are there."



Rarified Beauty
Unknown Artist

There was a time, long ago for some but not so long ago for others, when religion marked a clear difference and opposition to the things of this world. The saints, people of the other world, were accordingly pictured. Embodying the triumph over the laws of gravity and transitoriness, they were meant to look disembodied. They were, as in this set, of rarefied beauty, intentionally made to so convey the impression of diaphanous and insubstantial reality. They were heavenly – and looked it. Meanwhile, the focus of the Christian message has shifted to more this-worldliness, as other nativity scenes have shown. Today, artistic taste gives preference to a more corporeal humanness. However, the pendulum of history keeps swinging in two directions, meaning that there is – in the long run – no this-worldliness without other-worldliness. Distance and purity – as pictured in this nativity scene – have perennial value.



Like Wife, Like Husband
Karin Howard

In older representations of the nativity, Joseph rarely enjoys great press. Frequently he stands or sits apart from mother and child, a useful handyman at most. Some scenes show him brooding, his mind in suspense, lack of conviction written all over his face. There are also pictures where he simply sleeps the sleep of the just.

The scant attention given him by early Fathers and Doctors of the Church may have influenced his marginal position. Saint Augustine and other thinkers wrote of Saint Joseph, but his mention is sparse. The tide turned slowly. The reflection about his dignity and holiness began to flower in Medieval times. The seventeenth, and again the nineteenth centuries, were the golden age of a sometimes enthusiastic devotion to the third person of the Holy Family. He rightly deserves respect and affection. A connoisseur once simply defined him: "Like wife, like husband."

A new appreciation of Saint Joseph at the end of this century casts him in the role of the solicitous husband and father figure. In an attempt to redefine the division of labor within the Holy Family, he is now the one who holds the baby and rocks him to sleep.



From Mud to Marvel
United States
Kevin Hanna

Crafted by Kevin Hanna, Norwalk, CT, for The Marian Library Collection, this nativity representation intends to show the depth and strength of God's love for us. God meets us where we are, be it the muddy floor of a wide-open stable. The Child lies on soiled linen to show that Christ fully espoused the human condition – drabness, misery and all. Simultaneously, the tiny human being attracts the huddled masses pressing on him with eyes full of hope and faith. The figures are cast in the rough, but ageless style of northern European renaissance, that of the Brueghels in particular, and highlight the universal and timeless meaning of Christmas. The stark humanness of the event in the stable is contrasted by the "celestial bodies" hovering over it. Strange as it may be, the "celestial bodies" symbolize the strangeness of the Christmas mystery, meaning the difficulty we have to understand God, his message and presence among us. They also stand for the firmness and permanence of God's promise in Jesus Christ.

Mirror of Hope, detail


Black and Beautiful
Ed van Rosmalen (ENESCO)

In the long tradition of visually representing Christ's birth, only one of the wise men, Caspar, was customarily of black skin. For long centuries the nativity was essentially a white nativity, with white snow, white sheep, and Eurasian faces. This black nativity reminds us of the universal character of Christmas. Jesus could have been black or red or yellow. He belongs to everyone, and he represents all of us. But each culture makes its special contribution to the representation of the nativity scene. In a special way, this black nativity is a graceful and beautiful nativity. Grace and beauty are captured in the rich fabric and colorful designs of the robes, creating a stunning contrast with the dark and shiny skin of the many figures. Grace and beauty reach even greater depth when captured in the parastone figurine's eyes, features, and overall posture.



A Heavenly Ballet
Franklin Mint

Patterned on treasures of the Vatican Museums, Franklin Mint has created this nativity set in full baroque splendor. What is shown here hardly resembles the poor God who has come into humble human flesh. But should it always be like that? Is it not legitimate to show, once in a while, the other face of the coin, too? And so this nativity set takes human figures and gives them an almost heavenly appearance. The Christ child is surrounded by heavenly rhythms created by graceful poses and gestures. The figures defy gravity, and their weightless movement turns into a heavenly ballet. Baroque art has always attempted to open the heavens and bring their splendor down into this world. Rococo art takes it a step further and adds playfulness to the heavenly presence. This set brings these different aspects together and reminds us that there is "lightness of being" where Incarnation becomes a reality of faith.



Between Light and Darkness
Dennis Brown (ENESCO)

Solid, burly but gentle, these figures inspire trust and confidence, and one would not mind being led by them to the manger. Dennis Brown adopted a crèche style which has become popular in the United States. It favors a rough-and-tumble simplicity over sophistication, puts childlike faces on people and endows them with the smile of never- ending contentment. It is a deliberately primitive version of "paradise retrieved." The setting of this nativity suggests the theme of light and darkness, the need to find a way out of the maze of human existence. Coming into the light is a challenge because the birth of the "light-Child" did not take away all darkness. In fact, the line of demarcation between light and darkness is crossing the threshold of the stable. Thus, the search for the full light is still on. In this nativity set the seekers are the wise men. They come by boat, entangled in a maze of trees, but soon they will see the light.



Also see Pueblo Nativities (New Mexico, United States)

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