by Katharine Armbrester
I know now I was an intensely visual child. Thus, the holiday season was a feast for my eyes, one that I enjoyed more than any seasonal dish. I needed the textures and colors, (although I will admit I still contrarily prefer the color combination of blue and silver to red and green.) A considerable part of Christmas was all there was to look at. Christmas was something my eyes soaked up.
It makes sense, doesn’t it, that Christmas decorations were my favorite part of the holidays as a child? And my favorite decoration was the Nativity set. However, it was colorless—pale frosted glass. Mary, Joseph, a shepherd, the three kings, and baby Jesus in his manger.
I was homeschooled as a child and brought up so conservatively that we didn’t even celebrate Halloween—we watched movies about Martin Luther. We won’t get into the politics about the Reformation, but I know that every year when the Nativity set comes out, I think of a scene from the 1953 Martin Luther film. In one scene Luther is gnashing his teeth about the religious icons that the common people accumulate, and his mentor gently reminds him that physical representations of Christ and the saints make their lives “more real for the simple Christian.”
As a child I was most certainly a simple Christian; one with a longing for things and people to look at. I needed every visual representation of Christ that I could get my hands on. I loved the glossy and voluptuous Renaissance paintings of the Holy Family and representations of Old Testament heroines such as Sarah, Esther, Susanna and Jael. If there had been a graphic novel of the Bible that was fully illustrated, showing every birth and death and desolation and triumph I would have eaten it up. At least there was the Nativity set.
Whenever we visited friends and family I solemnly inspected their trees and Santa Clauses (a foreign concept to me) along with the rows of monogrammed stockings. Most of all I observed the Nativity sets that belonged to other folks. Carved wood, hand-painted, some had chipped corners and dog-chewed sheep. I particularly remember one set where the wise men had sequins on their fabric robes and I rebelled against such gaudiness in my very soul. I preferred my plain frosted glass wise men—unadorned, laden with gifts, patient. Wise men knew how to wait—hadn’t they long watched the stars and now their salvation was before them?
I am grown now and don’t hunt down representations of Bible characters; I don’t inspect my friend’s Christmas decorations with the dogged tenacity that I once did. Perhaps I should. Matthew 6:22 says that “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.” Some holiday decorations aren’t much more than clutter and rubbish, but there are some that can fill your eye, your lamp with light.
Lift your eyes to the delicate snowflakes and flickering stars, the sleek reindeer, beautifully crafted by the Master Designer. Most of all I hope you derive the health and the beauty my simple child’s heart yearned for from your Nativity sets. It doesn’t matter if your dog has nibbled on it—remember to be a simple Christian and give thanks that for the long-awaited salvation that is now before us.
Katharine Armbrester is in the MFA creative writing program at the Mississippi University for Women. She is a devotee of Flannery O’Connor and Margaret Atwood and fully intends to be an equally disconcerting playwright—she thinks Alabama needs one. Katharine has been recently published in the Lucky Jefferson literary journal, the Birmingham Arts Journal, and the supernatural Twilight Zone-inspired anthology, Step Into the Fifth Dimension.
2 thoughts on “Of Frosted Glass Nativity Sets 🎄”
With so many gaudy and garish decorations that appear at Christmas, simple figures are a welcome sight.
Katharine, I love this. I relate to so much of this. I too love the blue and silver over the red and green. As a child I loved the nativity under my grandparents tree and the simple holy cards and the statues of Mary that I secretly wished would shed a tear. I too prefer the plain!