Christmas Day: Christmas Crib/Creche
Shadows on the Rock by Willa Catherpublished 1931
[A French emigre family in Quebec assembling their nativity scene]
[They carried the figures] carefully to the window where she was making the scene. The Holy Family must be placed first, under a little booth of fir branches. The Infant was not in His Mother’s arms, of course, but lay rosy and naked in a little straw-lined manger, in which he had crossed the ocean. The Blessed Virgin wore no halo, but a white scarf over her head. She looked like a country girl, very naïve, seated on a stool, with her knees well apart under her full skirt, and very large feet. St Joseph, a grave old man in brown, with a bald head and wrinkled brow, was placed opposite her, and the ox and the ass before the manger.
“Those are all that go inside the stable,” Cecile explained, “except the two angels. We must put them behind the manger; they are still watching over Him.”
[Later that evening, the young boy Jacques comes to the house]
“I have a surprise for you,” he said. “It is for the creche, for the little Jesus.”
When she took off the paper, she held in her hand Jacques’ well-known carved beaver [his cherished possession].
“He isn’t new… but he could keep the baby warm. I take him to bed with me when I’m cold sometimes, and he keeps me warm.
Madame Pommier’s sharp ears had overheard this conversation, and she touched Cecile with the end of her crutch. “Certainly, my dear, put it there with the lambs, before the manger. Our Lord died for Canada as well as for the world over there, and the beaver is our special animal.”
A HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL BLOG READERS EVERYWHEREThis is a strange and wonderful book, and the mystery is how Cather manages to make the religion in it all-encompassing, and sometimes rather harsh, but not too infuriating or sentimental. The description of Christmas in the book is very charming.
Later in the book Cecile is trying to get a leading cleric in the city of Quebec to do something for Jacques, the poor neglected child above. The Bishop says
‘Compose yourself, my child. We can do something. Suppose I were to send him to the Brothers’ school in Montreal and prepare him for the Seminary?’
She shook her head despondently. “He could never learn Latin. He is not a clever child; but he is good. I don’t think he would be happy in a school.”
“Schools are not meant to make boys happy, Cecile, but to teach them to do without happiness.”[SLIGHT BUT CHEERING SPOILER FOR CHRISTMAS: he does avoid this unhappy and bleak fate]
For more on this book see this entry here, and Christine Poulson’s one too.
The picture is of a beautiful crib/creche at a religious community near where I live: while self-evidently modern, it IS French, and shows some slightly unexpected animals…
With thanks, again, to TKR for the photo, and to Chrissie for the recommendation.