Readers share their special Nativity scenes

Readers share their favorite manger scenes and tell why they're special

December 21, 2012 

Nativity scenes are part of many people's holiday decorations. Whether a gift of a friend or relative, purchased on a special vacation, handed down through the generations or handmade, Nativities have special meaning for many.

We asked readers to share with us their Nativities and to tell us why they are special to them. We were overwhelmed with responses. Here's a sampling of what we received.

Elaine Thompson, Lexington: My father-in-law, Bob Thompson, made this Nativity scene for my family. He is a talented woodworker and has made us many things over the years, but this is my favorite. It is made of cherry, my favorite wood. I keep it on display all year, not only at Christmas, to constantly remind us of God's gift to us, his son, Jesus Christ.

Jan Ziegel Taylor, Carlisle: Three years ago I began knitting the characters for this Nativity set. Last year I displayed it in our church's Advent Art exhibit. This year I completed the final shepherd. I have taken lots of photos thinking I may use it as a Christmas card. Then I will send it to my daughter in Arizona for a Christmas gift.

Jerry and Jeanie Scruggs, Morehead: The stable for our life-size Nativity is made from wood taken from a barn built by Jeanie's grandfather in the 1930s. We put up the stable in September or October and use it with fall decorations. Switching to the manger scene has become a day-after-Thanksgiving tradition. Each piece of the Nativity was cut out by Jerry and painted by Jeanie. The first year, we had only the holy family. The next year we added the shepherds and sheep, and then the donkey, cow, angel, and, last year, the wise men. The star is made from tobacco sticks, another reminder of our heritage as Jeanie's grandfather and father were both tobacco farmers. Our prayer as we set out the manger scene is that those who drive by and see it will be reminded of the true meaning of Christmas. The Nativity is one of the many projects we have completed together since we have been retired.

Diana Seidel, Lexington: My husband, Joe, and I grew up Lutheran in Wisconsin. When we were married in 1959 and spending our first Christmas together on Long Island where Joe was stationed as a Marine, we couldn't imagine Christmas without a Nativity scene. Off to Woolworth's we went, finding beautiful "hand painted in Italy" figures for only 29 cents each. That wasn't a bargain for us, so we bought what we could and still don't have our third camel. In the succeeding 53 years, one camel has lost part of its face, the cow has a crumpled horn, the baby Jesus was snatched and chewed by a busy little terrier, we've now given up the straw we used to use, and still the colors glow. The star was made from a coat hanger and glitter by one of our sons when he was in elementary school. Our Nativity scene is flawed, just like us, and we forever will give thanks to God for his love for the likes of us.

Stacy J. Hoskins, Lexington: For as long as I can remember, my grandmother Jean Sumner has put out a Nativity scene in her front yard. I have learned from neighbors and friends that it is a tradition for their family to drive by her home during the holidays. Last year she was not able to put out the manger scene because she was in Lexington receiving radiation treatments.This year she was determined to have everything set up and ready to be turned on Thanksgiving night, which she did at 89 years old.

Thanks to her determination, I witnessed my son's excitement when he saw the manger. There is nothing more beautiful than to see a kid smile when they top the hill on Lick Creek Road, Marshes Siding, Kentucky (McCreary County) and see her front yard adorned with the manger scene.

I will always cherish my memories of my grandmother during the holidays. Most importantly, I will remember her love for Christ and the story of his birth thanks to her dedication through the years.

Martha Deener, Lexington: These Nativity scenes are hand made, and each is a different needlepoint design. They were made as unique family gifts for my daughter, my sister, and my niece. Several years ago I made the first Nativity scene for our home, and I have added to it through the years. This original needlepoint Nativity now has nine figures and the stable scene. It proved to be so popular with my family members I decided to make one for each of us. Hopefully each family member will enjoy having these pieces out at the Christmas season as much as I enjoyed making them.

Barbara, Kevin, Grace and Nolan Phillips, Lexington: When we first moved next door to Richard "Pop" Vicars and his wife, Irene, 23 years ago, he was already retired from his job as a pipefitter. In addition to travelling, one of Pop's retirement hobbies was learning the art of stained glass. He started out small, with flowers, crosses and angels, but progressed to a much larger project. Pop dedicated himself to making a Nativity scene out of stained glass. Just as with anything Pop did, this project was undertaken with dedication, persistence and meticulous craftsmanship. It included a three-paneled, hinged backdrop in sky blue with a star on top as well as people, animals and trees. The crèche took him six months to complete and he displayed it in his dining room. Quietly, in his basement workshop, Pop completed six more stained glass crèches over several years and gave them away to family and close friends. Pop Vicars passed away in 2008, leaving a legacy of kindness, generosity and humility — and a crèche made of stained glass to six blessed families, including ours.

Jan Applegate, Kentucky Gateway Museum Center, Maysville: With all the excitement and festivities of the season, the Nativity scene helps to reflect the true meaning of Christmas, through the portrayal of the miracle of the birth of Jesus and the expression of love the shepherds had for the Christ child.

Kathleen Savage Browning has made it possible to experience this extraordinary event, as a part of her miniatures collection. She has commissioned the finest miniatures artisans to create a lovely Nativity set, based on the painting, The Adoration of the Shepherds by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.

Kaye and everyone at the Kentucky Gateway Museum Center in Maysville invite you to visit and share this unique Christmas experience with us. We promise your visit will become a favorite Christmas memory.

Alan and Joy Meek, Lexington: This Nativity scene has been on our lawn for the last 20 years. It started with just the plastic figures that we bought at Sears. Several years ago we added the makeshift lean-to for context. It's a humble display, which reflects the humble accommodations on that first Christmas. It's a special thrill to see footprints in the snow after parents have allowed their children to come take a closer look at the baby Jesus. We continue the tradition if for no other reason than the one-time-a-year opportunity to let our neighbors know where our Christmas priorities are.

Marian Moore Sims, Lexington. In 1986, Dr. Mark Gormley went to South America on a mission trip, I think. He returned near Christmastime with a very adorable and unique Nativity. All pieces were handmade, all clearly ethnic, and carefully shaped of clay in magnificent colors. We joyfully display it each year remembering the sentiment of the gift and the giver. It humbles me to consider the patience of the artist who sculpted each piece, even the cattle and lambs, with their lips in a perfect "O." Our family always thought that they were each prayerfully saying, "holy."

Joyce G. Davis, Lexington: Our stable, Mary, Jesus and Joseph are 63 years old. We bought them the first year we were married and it stretched our budget to buy them. This very small scene became one figure larger the next Christmas because we had our very own 2-month-old angel so we bought one in honor of Cindy's birth.

Later we had David and Marty, and when the three children grew older and had a very small allowance they delighted in going to Kresges' 5 & 10 on Main Street to buy one item per child to add to the Nativity scene.

Our boys always bought animals and Cindy always bought angels or a Mary figure. We now have four Marys and still display them along with all the other 75 figures in our collection.

This scene has been displayed for all to see since 1949 until last year when their beloved dad and my husband, Bill, died. We plan to start showing it again for all our great-grandchildren to see and read the story of its history.

Jean Crutcher Stewart, Versailles: In 1957 when I was a new mother I made this Nativity set composed of ceramic figures. I used the hobby shop facilities at Keesler AFB, Mississippi. While my military husband did the babysitting, I spent several weeks at night pouring, molding, painting and firing each of the 17 pieces. I have always been proud and thankful I made the set but it was such a time-consuming project I never attempted to make another.

A year later at Glasgow AFB in Montana a church friend noted my busy husband had never made a manger for the baby and angel. He constructed one from plywood, painted it and surprised me with it as a Christmas gift.

The set has escaped shipping damages during our many military assignments except for one unfortunate shepherd, which was broken years ago.

In the 55 years since I made this Nativity set it has been the focal point in our Christmas decor. Family and friends have admired it many times. At my age of 88 I hope to pass it on to my daughter and granddaughter.

Holly Cowell, Richmond: Such small pieces of plastic, but for me, they represent many memories to cherish. My Nativity has stamped on the bottom — made in Western Germany. It arrived on Christmas Eve about 1957. As was our custom at the time, we celebrated Christmas Eve with my grandmother, who was born in Germany and came to America with her husband in 1902. My mother grew up speaking German in the home and remained very close to all the relatives that were left in Germany. During World War II, she always lovingly prepared a care package to send to them containing coffee and other hard-to-get staples.

The relatives were very grateful for these packages and once the war was over would put together a Christmas package to send to us in America. On Christmas Eve, we exchanged gifts with my aunt, uncle, cousin and grandmother but the anticipation for me was to see what special present we would get in the package that came from Germany. So on this Christmas Eve in 1957, I carefully unwrapped a pretty little Nativity scene that just fit in my two small hands. And every year since, my Nativity scene finds a special place in our home. The relatives who sent it are long gone but their memory lives on in my little Nativity that arrived in the winter of 1957.

Barbara Holbrook, Nicholasville: This Nativity set is ceramic and I made it for my mother in 1969. She died in 1996 and we found all 8 of the pieces. I cherish it because I made it for her and she kept it all these years. It was an inexpensive gift, but it meant a lot to her and it was all I could afford at the time.

Gwen Hall, Prestonsburg: My Nativity scene has special meaning to me. It represents the humble beginnings of my Lord and Savior who would suffer anything for me and the people and places that have shaped my life. The stable was made by my grandfather when he was in his late 70s. It is an exact replica of the stable that graced my grandparents' mantel and the stables that were under the Christmas trees at my parents' and cousins' homes each Christmas of my St. Louis, Mo., childhood. It is made from scrap paneling, plywood and hickory sticks gathered from my uncle's farm in Petosi, Mo. Most of the figurines within were purchased at an after-Christmas flea market sale in Long Island, N.Y. for $10, exactly 20 percent of the salary I made in December 1975 working as a Jesuit volunteer in Washington, D.C. The figurines were hand-carved from olive wood from the Holy Land, the birthplace of Jesus, who worked as a carpenter. There is also a small wooden pine tree made by a carpenter who worked with me at St. Vincent's Mission in David, Ky., and a wooden camel given us by Franciscan Sister Roberta Naegele, who is a dear friend and who delivered our third child. There were times in the past when I wished I had a more elegant and colorful Nativity scene, but I now realize this one suits us best.

Debbie Kimbrough, Frankfort: I'm sharing a Nativity set that I needle-pointed. Newer shiny threads and a wide variety of stitches make it so beautiful. I had not needlepointed before, so I joined the "Stitch Chicks" in Frankfort with four other ladies and a teacher. The set took about two years to complete and probably has about $2,000 invested in canvasses, threads and lessons, not to mention the time involved. Look closely and you can see the details.

Shirley Hoskins, Lawrenceburg: My Nativity scene is simply made and a favorite decoration at Christmas. My father, Curtis Headen, handmade the stall more than 50 years ago. The roof is tree bark and the wood is cherry and other types of wood. He carved the cradle, a stool and the trough and placed straw in it. My mother, Ann Headen, purchased the figures: Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, shepherds, donkeys, camels and sheep. One has the price tag on the bottom. It says 49 cents. We probably bought it from the J. J. Newberry store. My dad loved to work with wood and he did not have modern tools. He mostly whittled the items. Even though my parents died several years ago, our family enjoys the Nativity scene year after year. In viewing it I sense a quiet peace and a hope in my heart for the past, present and future.

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