The yearly Nativity play in the Franciscan Friary in Essa Nagri brings the birth of Jesus Christ to life as children and volunteers dress up as the Virgin Mary, shepherds and baby Christ. But while many Nativity plays have models of animals, this production uses live animals for the scene in the manger.
On the eve of Christmas, almost all of the churches hold the Christmas service in which nativity plays are the highlight, officially marking the start of Christmas.
While live nativity scenes are performed at a community level, small model cribs, made out of wood, hay, paper, polythene, etc are made by community members for their homes; and the bigger models are for their churches. Of all the Christmas festivities, which involve the Christmas tree, carol singing and gifts for loved ones, making Christmas cribs is perhaps of the most religious significance for Christians.
“These are samples of art that people usually take great pride in making” said Benedict Simon.
Jerome Athanasius has been carefully crafting cribs – wooden structures which depict the nativity scene – for many a December.
“I feel very happy when I make it with my own hands as it allows me to feel the joy of Christ’s birth,” he told The Express Tribune.
The neatly carved wooden structures that depict the nativity scene have two tiers. One, of the holy family, baby Jesus with Mary and Joseph with an angel, the shepherds and their flock plus animals in the manger. The second set has the holy family and three wise men bearing gifts (which is put up later) along with the manger animals. The usual set of statues includes Saint Joseph, Mary, the baby Jesus in a cradle, the Magi who visited the stable after the birth, angels, shepherds, common people bearing gifts and barn animals.
Athanasius uses straw, figures of barn animals and fodder to give it the look of a stable. One of his cribs, which took him 14 days to complete, is currently on display at the Daughters of St Paul’s bookshop in Saddar – the place where he works. It is one of the few places in the city where religious figurines are available.
Sister Daniela, an Italian nun belonging to the religious order that runs the book store, said that the most expensive ones have been imported from Italy and cost around Rs20,000. “They are made of very special material and have been painted by hand,” she said.
The locally made sets are cheaper – Rs400 to Rs4,000 – but they are made of chalk and are not as clear or finished as their Italian counterparts.
People usually make their Christmas cribs at home as no one sells readymade ones. Those who are on a tight budget simply put straw over a white cloth. A woman who was shopping at Bohri Bazaar for thistles to go on her Christmas tree explained that they used the same figurines and statuettes that that her father-in-law had bought in the UK many years ago.At the Holy Trinity Church, a crib adorns the main hall. One member of the church, Robert D’Souza, explained its significance. “A star was the first indication of his birth and then the angels foretold his arrival to the world. The crib gives you the feel of Christmas.”
Published in The Express Tribune, December 25th, 2011.