Christmas Memories

By Lynda Millner   |   January 16, 2020
Kim Cavalle and Gonzalo Sarmiento in front of the crèche he made

As the holiday season winds down it reminds me of when we lived in Naples, Italy with our four-year-old daughter Kim and baby son Dane. At Christmas time many families put up a crèche in their homes but these were extra charming. Some would be an entire Italian village with tiny houses, markets, villagers at work and animals.

As soon as I saw one, I knew we had to have it. Down we went to crèche alley where all the little shops had them. We bought the basic village (about a foot wide) and then the little pieces. At home after putting it all together and adding lights, Kim stood wide eyed in wonderment at what we had created. However we didn’t have enough figures so back downtown we went.

Now we didn’t remember what we had and what we didn’t, but Kim did. She told us what to buy, we did and she was right. After many years at my home, the Italian crèche now resides at my daughter’s. It’s still as charming as ever.

Fast forward to us living in Spain. We had Spanish friends who took us and our kids crèche (nacimiento) viewing. This was the sherry town of Jerez where they published a list of homes that were open for viewing their nacimientos. You just knocked on the door and the owners let you in. Usually they had taken over a whole room in their home for the crèche they made. Again it not only has the cave for the birth of Jesus but it depicts the whole village. Kim and son Dane still have memories of that evening adventure.

Gonzalo’s crèche, or nacimiento

Now that we live in Santa Barbara we have a friend, Gonzalo Sarmiento, who is from Mexico. Every Christmas he creates in his living room a large nacimiento. The figures he has collected from all over the world. This year when Kim came to visit with her boys we went to see it, bringing back memories of those long ago times in Spain.

My husband, Don, puts a small crèche up every year. It’s a bit time worn, but is cherished because his parents, who died young, gave it to him when he was born in 1927.

How did these customs begin? Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first nativity scene in 1223 in Greccio (central Italy). He wanted everyone to emphasize Christ at Christmas not gift giving. His scene was a living one with people and animals playing biblical roles. Within 100 years every church in Italy was expected to have a nativity scene at Christmas. The angels, the shepherds, and the Magi and are often displayed in a nativity scene with the Holy Family.

And so you all will have your memories of Christmas past. St. Francis would be pleased.


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