Photography by Scot Facer Proctor. Text by Maurine Jensen Proctor.
On Christmas Eve, when I was a child, Jesus was always born again for me. Long before Mr. Krueger fell on his knees in that cattle stall, I felt that somewhere, somehow on that night, if I could just be in the right place or slip back in time, I could see the holy moment for myself. I could imagine myself being invited in with a whisper and a shhhh, touching his cheek, feeling the light. That glow from a distance filled my soul and I always felt a sort of yearning to see Him come.
Now, years later, Scot and I have done for us, what is the next best thing. We have spent years collecting international nativities. We have seen with delight that for every people and every nation, He is personal. Each one, in their own way and their own dress want to crowd into the scene with the shepherds and worship him.
Our scene from Japan has a Japanese baby Jesus. Our nativity from Laos has the baby in a swing in a house on stilts to be safe from flooding. An elephant and a boar are among the animals come to celebrate the moment.
Our African nativity is made of ebony and has a baobab tree. In our Palestinian nativity, everyone wears a head scarf.
Putting up these scenes in our home at Christmas reminds me of the universal truth that Christ came for all of us. He visits us from the inside-and so of course, he looks like us, speaks in our own language, embraces us in our native dress–and that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ (Romans 14:11, Isaiah 45:23).
This nativity from Egypt is made of the kind of clay that the Children of Israel were compelled to use to make bricks. Joseph here has a hole in his cloak, reminding us that Christ’s birth was a humble scene.
The Children of Israel were freed from bondage by Jehovah and we are freed by Him, too, through his atonement.
Of course, in this nativity scene from Japan, the sweet baby Jesus and all the worshippers are Japanese. He came to us as we are, where we are and who we are.
In this Palestinian scene, all are wearing head scarves or keffiyahs to cover their heads. The meaning of atonement is covering-as in a covering or cloaking of our sins.
This nativity is made in Bethlehem of olive wood. An olive tree is never harvested for carving these scenes. Only branches are used.
Each of our nativities has a story behind it of how we found it, but this one is particularly special to us. It is beautifully carved from Mali. When Yeah Samake was running for president of Mali, he stopped by our home and saw our many nativity sets and realized how we valued them. He had a nativity set specially carved in Mali to bring to the United States when he came. One night we came home and found this beautiful nativity on our front porch in a box, left as a surprise from Yeah. How very kind.
We love the exquisite detail the African carvers do in their work.
Of all the animals we have in our various nativity scenes, this camel is the grandest, so it is no surprise he has a proud look on his face.
The flat-brimmed hats of the wise men come straight from Mali-not the Middle East.
We see him like us.
A Polish artist, who chose to remain anonymous, created this nativity. In carving, the artist left the barks of trees to be the robes of the shepherds in the scene.
Polish folk art often depicts the nativity or other scenes from the Bible. Farmers and villagers, who are also artists, created these scenes in the privacy of their own homes to remind them what was important-particularly during the years when Poland was occupied by those who tried to stamp out worship.
The Polish artist managed to make this cow look both awed and reverential.
Polish kings come to worship the King of kings.
A wooden nativity from Switzerland that includes characters who look like they are ready to climb through mountain meadows.
A Saint Bernard with a barrel around his neck in this Swiss nativity looks like he has not only come to worship, but is also ready for rescue.
Of course, if we are Swiss, we have to announce his coming with an Alpenhorn.
Because the Amish do not believe in graven images, the people in this nativity they crafted to not have faces. But, they do have patchwork quilts!
Even the heavy hand of Communism couldn’t stamp out thoughts of the Savior in the Czech Republic where this nativity scene was made.
This nativity scene from Ethiopia is crudely made with the best materials at hand, which makes us love it all the more.
American artist, Jim Shore, designed this nativity set. Once we came around a corner and accidentally knocked one of the wise men to the floor, breaking him in several pieces. Scot carefully glued him back together, but he didn’t look too good. We contacted the company asking if it was possible to buy just one wise man as a replacement. They sent us the wise man and said it was a gift. We can’t look at this nativity without thinking of the kindness of Jim Shore.
Holding the Son of God must have both awed and astonished Mary as his shown in this nativity by American manufacturer, the Willow Tree.
Lambs and gifts, of course. He would be both the sacrificial lamb and the good shepherd.
We purchased this nativity, made of dense jungle wood, in Ghana when we went to cover the Ghana temple dedication for Meridian. Every artist and vendor in the market knew their Bible stories well.
This nativity from India features figures with arms straight out, wearing bright colors that look like the inside of a Hindu temple.
Baby Jesus, in this scene made in Laos, hangs in a swinging basket, perhaps for a cool breeze.
In this scene from Laos, an elephant and a boar come to see the baby Jesus. In our nativity scene from Alaska, it is a polar bear and an owl.
This artist from Finland has created the nativity scene with bold, minimalistic lines and spheres.
And, of course, it would not be complete without angels hanging out, dangling their legs on the manger’s roof keeping watch over the scene.
This is a German bow (like a rainbow) with a small nativity carved inside. We particularly like the trees made of shaved, curls of wood.
This nativity from Slovakia and made of corn husks has every villager coming to the scene, many still bearing the implements of their work such as brooms and hoes. Just as when we call to Him, He answered, “Here am I,” so when he comes, we will drop everything to say “Here am I.”
Even Santa knows the reason for the season and is on his knees-as we all would be-should we be at the manger rejoicing in Immanuel-God with us.