A Christmas journey: Nativity scene travels day by day to St. Mary’s

December 2013 Posted in Arts, Culture & History, Community
Life-sized figures make the journey from home to home, from the east to St. Mary’s Church. Photo by Marilyn Hall

Life-sized figures make the journey from home to home, from the east to St. Mary’s Church. Photo by Marilyn Hall

By Jo Garcia-Cobb

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” a visitor from Eugene said while admiring Mount Angel’s traveling Nativity scene in front of a home on East College Street.

She and her husband were driving by when they spotted the life-sized créche, decided to stop, and take a closer look. “What a labor of love!” she exclaimed, while examining the details of each figure.

Later that day, Marilyn Hall and her 16-year-old son Martin came all bundled up in freezing temperature to move the figures a few houses down the street. They started out repairing any damage inflicted by the elements, then proceeded to carefully pull each figure up from the ground, and transport it to the next house.

This is the sixth season that St. Mary Parish has had the life-sized Nativity scene that travels through Mount Angel until completing its journey on the lawn of St. Mary’s Catholic Church. It stays there until Jan. 6, the Feast of Epiphany.

Depending on the weather, Mary, Joseph, and their donkey begin their trek at Mount Angel Abbey, at the base of abbey hill or at a home nearby. The three kings and two large camels follow at a distance throughout the four weeks leading up to Christmas.

This year, due to freezing weather, it was decided that the trek would begin at the corner of Towers Lane and East College Street on Dec. 1, the first Sunday of Advent.

Each year the entourage goes the same direction, coming from the east, but they visit different homes along the way.

Marilyn Hall and her son Martin relocate the Nativity to its next location in Mt. Angel. Photo by Jo Garcia-Cobb.

Marilyn Hall and her son Martin relocate the Nativity to its next location in Mt. Angel. Photo by Jo Garcia-Cobb.

“Every time we set out to move the figures, people who were taking a walk usually pitched in and helped. There was a helping hand right when I needed it. It was always a joy to see who would show up,” Hall said.

The idea to have an outdoor Nativity scene came in response to the frustration that the public school’s “Winter Program” had become devoid of traditional Christmas songs and pageants. Realizing that it was not the responsibility of the school to teach about Christmas, but the church’s, the idea was born.

Members of St. Mary’s Women of the Word Bible Study Group, led by Hall, and of Saint Mary’s Men’s Group collaborated in creating the Nativity scene in the fall of 2007.

They took inspiration from a Nativity scene that was displayed on Old Mount Angel Highway at the home of Ron and Laura Beyer. Made by the Hannan family almost 40 years ago and passed on to the Beyers, the life-sized crèche consists of figures dressed in real clothing and other materials that made them look life-like.

“Mr. Hannan gave us the idea to go off. His design was really original,” Hall said.

Copying the Hannans’ Nativity scene, St. Mary parishioners Ed and Virginia Douglas cut the wooden figures and waterproofed them. Virginia’s experience in iconography lent itself well to painting the faces.

Each figure was adopted by a different person from St. Mary’s Parish, namely Lisa Bartholomew, Rosie Wilgus, Sarah Kuenzie, Laura Miller, Ruthann Mullins, Nichole Morris, Berna Wagner, Ginny Forrell and Marilyn Hall. Another crew of mostly retired parishioners sets up and takes down the manger each year.

“Our baby Jesus is just the most precious doll all wrapped in swaddling clothes with his little toes peeking out,” Hall said.

Some of the challenges involved in creating the figures was getting the camels, sheep, and donkey with the right “bulges.” For the camels, Hall raided her sons’ toys and cut their plastic softball for the ridges of the nose and eyes, with another smaller ball inserted for the eyeball. She cut plastic milk jugs for the ears and plastic apple juice bottles for the feet.

“It gives me a lot of joy to see how people of various faiths have participated in this project,” Mary Jo Coddington, a Women of the Word Bible Study Group participant.

“It has been a multigenerational project from start to finish and continues to bring new life to the Christmas story. Perhaps seeing Mount Angel’s traveling Nativity Scene will bring to mind the greatest event in the history of world. God loving us so much that He came to save us,” Hall said.

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.