IMG_0462One of my favorite Christmas carols is “Away in a Manger,” which makes me think of a crèche, with all the innocence of a five-year-old looking at a bunch of dolls. I grew up with the James Ramsey Murray version and remember vaguely being outraged when I learned there was a different (and to me wrong!) version by William Kirkpatrick, which happened to be older. But I didn’t know that. What you encounter first is what you think is normal and right.

This entire village was enormous.

The santons of Provence are famous, but there are so many other variations on the crèche, which is a French word. It dates to the beginning of the 12th century and meant a manger (which literally in French is pronounced mahn-JAY and means “to eat,” but if you want to do apples-to-apples meaning-wise, the French version is mangeoire (mahn-ZHWAR), or long feeding trough for animals). It didn’t take on a religious connotation until 1223, according to the Centre National de Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales–the etymology police.IMG_4447I have a bunch of photos from over the years and wanted to share them. It’s why I took them in the first place. “Somebody else needs to see this!”IMG_0460For example this crèche scene has life-size figures made of straw by a Polish farmer. The biggest figures are 1.80 meters tall (5’9″). The figures are based on an iron base, to which is woven balls of straw. The explanation sign said the straw symbolizes that Jesus was born in a stable, poor among the poor.IMG_4443This has nothing to do with the crèche, but where I grew up there were no crenellated castle walls with towers on any altars. Oh, France. Kids here who see such walls (big ones, for real) on a daily basis must not even notice small reproductions in a dark corner of a church. Nothing special.IMG_4446Another shot of the crèche at the top. Again, check out that altar!

If you add a string of LED lights to a tableau of clay figurines and moss, is it multimedia?

There are other quaint Christmas touches around.

Of COURSE Christmas balls were made into bunches of grapes.
An effort was made but the result is underwhelming. Who can’t relate?
I love the cacti under the LED reindeer. Also, notice the hanging squid.

How is your Christmas season going? Is your shopping done? We are going ultra light this year. For the tree, too. Just the blue balls and white lights, and actually it’s very pretty. Sometimes less is more.

A crèche/Santa mashup, with art by local kids.


23 thoughts on “Crushing on Crèches

  1. Fun photos! I spent one Christmas in Italy, and inside the Roman amphitheater in Verona, there are dozens and dozens of creches set up and lit in the dark catacombs – wonder if I have any photos of that buried deep in an album? My tree went up yesterday, Scotch pine slurping water from the base of its stand. After I put my lights on, I realize that of course I need MORE – hoping to finish sometime this weekend between choir practices, a crafternoon with girlfriends, a dinner party and a Lessons & Carols service! Insane, but I LOVE this time of year! Thanks for your lovely posts, which I enjoy all year.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The photos were lovely.

    I’ve done Christmas in a few different countries and it is always interesting to see how differently they celebrate or decorate. I think the differences were more prevalent in the past as now they even have Christmas and Christmas decorations in China. It’s the whole globalization thing, marketing and FOMO.

    I’m happy that we have cut way back. We stopped giving each other gifts years ago.

    Every year I make a calendar for my family through Shutterfly and have eight of them printed. I use everyone’s photos from the year. It’s the only time we print any of our photos. That’s my holiday shopping done.

    We decorate our house with all the pieces we’ve collected over the past 30 years of being together. We haven’t bought anything new in years and prefer to use items from the past that hold meaning for us and bring back memories.

    I much prefer a holiday season of reflection and gratitude over one of consumption and chaos.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a great idea. My dad used to give me a calendar every year—not personalized but I always appreciated and looked forward to it. Good for you for finding a gift that’s useful, personal, beautiful and meaningful.


  3. We have a Santon nativity set we bought in Paris in 1985 for our 15th anniversary. I couldn’t find a way to attach a photo with the comments. We have the basic crèche characters and then about 20 villagers who, according to the shopkeeper, came to visit the Christ child and brought their gifts. They are painted in bright colors and I love them.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. We do need to see these! And to have the etymology police enforcing some standards … You can be relied upon for a high culture injection into my morning!

    Tree is up, the ever-reliable green tinsel variety (the drought is dire here anyway, so a real tree is a positive indulgence). As always, there is no theme except “Hang Everything!” but beyond making a batch of marzipan for maybe making some stollen at some point, there has been no other movement in the general Christmas direction. Presents are only for the little ones, typically, and I’ve not even given that any thought yet.

    While every Christmas decoration seems incongruous in the Antipodes, it is entirely our normal to see faux frosted snowflakes sprayed onto windows and fairy light icicles dripping from street lamps and what not. Floridablanca would be right at home here right now!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you use your fake tree at least 10 years then it’s more environmentally friendly than a real one over the same time.
      Presents only for kids is a good policy. Was just talking to a friend whose kid had suggested a lint roller when asked what she’d like from Santa. Not a fashionista; just that it’s cool to see the lint come off. Innocence.


  5. The figurines in that first photo are just beautiful. And I rather like the little tree with its single golden ball — perhaps there’s a partridge hiding in it somewhere.
    I have three small carved angels, whose wings detach for storage. Plain pine, bought long ago from a local woodcarver in the Italian Alto Adige, and they’ve darkened over the years. When I unwrap them and give them their wings again, then it’s Christmas.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. We have our tree up, but not decorated except for white lights. We observe Advent so the tree won’t be decorated until next week end. One of our favorite thing during the holidays is going to the National Cathedral in Washington, DC and see the exhibition of creches. The Cathedral has an enormous collection and no creche is exhibited every year. It’s beautiful seeing the way different cultures represent the Holy Family. Hope everyone has a blessed Christmas.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s interesting. I know some friends who decorate the tree on Christmas Eve, which seems like such a lovely tradition. Although I’m in the mood for Christmas decor before Christmas and for only about a week after. Decorating on Christmas Eve would be too short!


  7. Playing catch up with your blog.
    Great post as always. Just finished Christmas decorations. I have a baby Jesus that belonged to my grandmother, then my mother and now is at home. It is too big, but represents lots of family memories.
    Merry Christmas and season’s greetings to all your readers.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Love this – we have two table top creche – One was my parents, handmade/painted ceramic from Mexico – they received it as a wedding gift 50+ years ago. Our home was flooded when I was a teenager and all the pieces were underwater – the only one that didn’t survive was the Baby Jesus. Faithful heretics that we are we always joked that we were waiting for the second coming. I have a tiny Infant of Prague that stands in lately.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. We were still renovating until 2 weeks ago, but got the house decorated now. I’m behind on everything all the time these days, but I finally got Tito to agree to having someone clean for us. We have a creche but it’s not out yet. I’m leaving it for my very, very relgious mother-in-law to do. I’d better practice my Spanish because while she’s doing that I need to tell her about how my mom used to have Mary run away with the blond shephard and kiss him behind the barn because Joseph has grey hair in this set.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. These photos are beautiful! I grew up spending most every Christmas visiting my grandparents, so we always wen tot midnight mass at the same church, my favorite part of the mass was to go afterwards to see the creche, they still use the same one they did all those years ago.

    One of my favorite times of the year to travel is around the holidays and I have been blessed to see many beautiful creches in Paris, my favorites were always the ones at Notre Dame.

    As for Christmas decor, I love decorating! We have several little 4 foot trees around the house and a 6 foot one in our bedroom this year. It is my favorite new tradition to wake up every weekend turn on the tree lights and read and drink cocoa.

    Baking and sending homemade treat to family and friends using recipes passed down from my grandmother is my all time favorite thing to do at Christmas.

    Have a great week my dear.


    1. So, how do I get on your cookie list, because I’ve seen the recipes you post. Those are some LUCKY people!!!
      I have not been in the mood to bake, but some interactions with some truly wonderful people make me want to do something for them, and homemade cookies seem like the kind of gift that is thoughtful and enjoyable but not carrying a burden of reciprocity…because after all, I’m the one who wants to reciprocate for their exceptional kindnesses.
      It sounds absolutely magical to have little trees throughout the house.
      Went to midnight Mass at Notre Dame once, by accident. Just happened to pass by at the right time. I was disappointed. I had expected a choir that makes you tingle from ears to toes, but it was all unison singing. Meh. I get the whole everybody-participate intention, but sometimes you want shock and awe.


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