On the First Sunday of Advent, Pope Francis wrote an apostolic letter on the importance of Christmas crèches, also known as nativity scenes. His Holiness explained that crèches are a great family tradition that helps us reflect on how God "became one of us, so that we in turn might become one with Him." Pope Francis also encouraged crèches to be displayed in public places, such as schools, hospitals, workplaces, prisons and town squares as a way of transmitting our faith.
Fr. Roy Roberts, pastor of St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Newmarket, shares insights on his collection of 83 Christmas crèches that he puts on display every year.
More than a decade ago, I was at the very multicultural parish of St. Francis de Sales in Ajax. We celebrated this diversity with international potlucks, displaying national flags and eventually we stumbled on the idea of acquiring and displaying nativity scenes from as many countries as we could get.
Theologically it expands the notion that Christ was born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago to the idea that Christ is still being born today in each and every culture.
Malawi crèche, pictured above. (Photo courtesy of Fr. Roy Roberts)
Our crèche criteria was: it had to be authentically from the place it represented; and it had to somehow depict something unique about that culture and its peoples.
Over the years the Internet became a great source for getting international crèches. And people would write to their family and friends in various countries requesting crèches or they would bring them back from their travels.
When I left St. Francis I carried the same idea to St. Elizabeth Seton in Newmarket. When St. Francis discontinued the celebration, I was able to get a head start on the collection here in Newmarket. Now we are up to 83 scenes and counting!
Crèche from the Dominican Republic, pictured above. (Photo courtesy of Fr. Roy Roberts)
We like to set them up after the Fourth Sunday of Advent but as our collection has become larger and more elaborate, we now start constructing the scenes after the Third Sunday of Advent. They remain up until the last Sunday of Christmas, typically the Baptism of our Lord (Sunday, January 12, 2020).
We don't advertise the crèche display outside the parish but word of mouth — especially in small towns — has spread pretty quickly and people from around the area will pop in.
It is a highlight for the parish and it is magical to watch families pointing out the various scenes from their country of origin. It is a great unifying celebration and it expresses our Eucharistic communion in a new and vivid way.
It is hard to pick a favorite now that there are so many of them. Each crèche has its own story, which makes it intriguing and special. However, I do think our crèche from Malawi is exceptional. The artistry of the carving is exquisite.
Also, the crèche from the Dominican Republic has a special place in my heart. It was donated by the students from Archbishop Denis O'Connor High School in Ajax as a thank you for the parish's support of their endeavors.
Feel free to visit this Christmas!