Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Nativity Scene

Every Christmas (bar this one just gone) my grandfather would construct in his sun room a mountainside nativity scene out of waxed butchers paper. It was a tradition his father had passed on to him, though as the years advanced Granddad would comment on the difficulty in finding the specific type of paper he required to achieve his vision. It was always absolutely stunning, a rocky outcrop around a central cave in which the holy family sheltered but every year it was subtly different, depending upon the creases of the stiff butcher's paper. In the foreground the shepherds tended to their flocks while on the hill behind modern wooden houses and little ceramic churches dotted the landscape. Granddad loved playing with things, electricity included, and so he'd wire up the houses on the mountain side with a set of Christmas lights, however he'd always include one setting for us which we were told was of a naughty boy playing with the light switches in his house.

During the festive season, our first port of call when visiting Granddad was the nativity scene where we would scour the nooks and crannies for the hidden baby Jesus and then proceed to hide him again so that come Christmas Eve, only we knew his location and only we could place him in the manger. Between the cousins we'd team up against each other, and try to be as inventive as possible so that no one else was able to find the hidden baby.

Wandering through Naples earlier in the year, we stumbled upon a Christmas market that specialised in the type of tiny figurines that graced Granddad's set. Every ornament was beautifully executed, from the tradition shepherd carrying a lamb across his shoulders to the more exotic boxes of Asian vegetables designed to grace the local market stalls of the village scenes and with every one I was reminded of Granddad, if not because it was so like what he already possessed then because it was something unusual that would add so much to his carefully maintained traditions.

As we wandered through, I was on the look out for a small cat, a personal symbol to add to the nativity. Cats have played an extensive role on our lives, my Grandfather's included but they are one of the few animals excluded from the stables, and the bible as a whole. Despite being such an appropriate inclusion, I was hoping to teasingly provoke my Grandfather's reaction of 'it goes against tradition', particularly as being a good Catholic, he would be bound to know of the poor cat's absence from the bible.

My argument in retaliation would simply have been that it was adding to tradition, something I seem to do with all the traditions he passes down to me.

I didn't find one.

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