Christmas crib

For me, if Christmas is about anything, it's about family and about family traditions.  I think it's how a family keeps Christmas that effectively gives it it's meaning. 

Christmas was a much simpler affair around the Cheekpoint area 40 years ago.  In the first instance limited TV access meant advertisers couldn't bombard you with the latest action man model with dizzying attachments. Expectations were also tempered with my parents childhood recollections where oranges were considered an exotic present and much sought after.  Decorations  were generally made from crepe paper and hung from the ceiling in the living room and although the tree had lights, that's where they were confined to...no flashing snowmen, waving Santa's, flying reindeer or multi-coloured multifunctioning light displays from off the eves of half the homes in the area.  Holly hung from all the pictures, and from an early age it was my brother Robert and I who were expected to gather it.  Another job was to make and decorate a candle holder for the living room window into which the largest red candle our mother could find was placed in preparation for Christmas Eve. 

Central to the festival, was the crib, which was given pride of place in the living room.  Although it was a simple enough affair it always drew our attention, but we were warned off from touching.  There seemed to me to be a blatent toruture in that, particularly to a child, of course it was touched but as the pieces were glued in place, there was little play value in it. My Grandmother's crib was a painting of the crib scene which she stuck to the wallpaper, so no risk of moving any parts there. 

The one in the church was a fine affair, with plaster statuettes about 3 feet high.  In those days it was placed in a manger constructed of timber and palm leaves with a holly bough atop.  Straw lined the base and I think everyone looked forward to the coming of the infant to the empty manger on Christmas morning.  As a child I thought making the crib must be a wonderful job, especially as you would get to move the pieces.  Matt "Mucha" Doherty was responsible for many of those constructions when I was younger.  In later years there have been several modifications, but I always look back on Matt's as a classic...but maybe it was just my age.

Faithlegg Crib Christmas 2014
Historically we have St Francis of Assisi to thank for the Christmas Crib apparently.  Having travelled to the Holy Land he returned to his Italian homeland and in the village of Grecicco in 1223 re-enacted the story of the "coming of the son" (or should that be Sun) with a life sized model with live creatures and actual people.  So taken were those who came to mass at the site that it was continued and within 100 years had spread throughout Italy.  I could find no written record of the first Irish crib but did read of its occurrence in England in the mid 17th C.  Hard to imagine that the crib was not a feature in Ireland at this point or before.  Wonder was it a feature within old Faithlegg Church?

The Magi en route to the Crib
The Crib of course, like so much in the church events throughout the year drips with symbolism.
I'm not sure at what stage I started to realise not everyone shared the same beliefs, practices or traditions, some major but some just more subtle.  The Crib is a good example of this.  There was a lovely piece on last Monday's nationwide of a Capuchin Monk in Dundalk who displays several hundred cribs from around the world over Christmas, all proceeds to charity. 

Alhough Christmas is a very different affair at this stage, a Crib still features significantly in our home.  Deena won it in the early 1990's in a Faithlegg NS Christmas draw and it was donated to the draw by Jimmy Flynn.  The stable was handmade and is a solid 3 sided build with floor and roof.  All the pieces are separate and can be moved.  Needless to say it was a big draw to our children and Deena not alone allowed them touch it, but encouraged it.  Many was the Christmas we hunted for pieces under the tree, down a settee or on one occasion out of the video recorder.  It's still a major feature of our Christmas traditions, as will be a visit to the Faithlegg Church Crib. 

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