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 meaning, creates memories and makes it a special time of year.

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 because my parents childhood recollections where oranges were considered an exotic present and much sought after.  Having experienced the rationing and shortages of the “Emergency” either directly or indirectly had a significant impact on them both.

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 was placed behind all the pictures in the living room, 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 top the sideboard in the living room.  Although it was a simple enough affair it always drew our attention, but we were warned not to touch it.  There seemed to me to be a blatant torture in that, particularly as 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 in the Russianside was a painting of the crib scene which she stuck to the wallpaper, so no risk of moving any parts there.

The one in Faithlegg church was a fine affair, with plaster statuettes of the main characters, some standing almost 3 feet high.  In those days it was placed in a manger constructed of timber and evergreen 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.  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.  I wonder was it ever a feature within the 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.

Although Christmas has become an over commercialised spending spree at this stage, the Crib still features significantly in our home.  My wife Deena won it in the early 1990’s in a Faithlegg National School Christmas draw, made and donated by Jimmy Flynn.  The wooden stable was handmade and is a solid 3 sided build with floor and roof.  All the pieces within 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 (Joel’s favourite) .  It’s still a major feature of our Christmas traditions, as will be a visit to the Faithlegg Church Crib.

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