Tag Archives: nativity

Weirdness in the Crèche

The one that started it all for me.
The zombie Jesus nativity scene. Aka, the one that kick started this weird seasonal obsession of mine.

Many of you don’t know this, but I have a thing for weird nativity scenes. Actually, I have a thing weirdness in general, especially when that weirdness tweaks a few sanctimonious noses, and what better place to to do that than with a nativity scene? It’s a sickness, I know.

I became aware of this seasonal fascination last year, when an Ohio family caused an uproar with their zombie Jesus nativity. It was my favorite story of Christmas 2015. Even after they settled their issues with the town zoning board (yes, you read that right), someone was upset enough to leave them a note saying “GOD FROWNS UPON THIS MANGER SCENE,” with an explanation of why Jesus is not a zombie (again, you read that right).

This year, folks have their knickers in a twist over a new nativity scene: the Hipster Nativity Set. I know this because Jim Denison wrote an article for Charisma telling me so. Now, I’m no fan of hipsterdom, but anything that bothers Charisma News can’t be all bad. Can it?

But, friends, these two odd little scenes represent just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to weirdness in the crèche. And I, as your faithful and snarky guide to all things odd, have scoured the Interwebz to suss out what I believe are some the weirdest and most surreal (i.e. best ever) nativity scenes. Gaze upon the wonder, beloved:

mermaid-nativity
Flickr: Teyacapan

First up, we have the Mermaid nativity scene. I’m not sure what it’s made of or why anyone would even concieve of a mermaid Jesus, but that’s why this one is on the list: it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Besides, the craftsmanship is impeccable.

nativitytimer
Courtesy of whyismarko.com

This one not exactly a nativity scene and, to be honest, the inherent commercialization is a little troubling. But, I do have to admire a mind that could find a way to combine the birth of Christ and kitchen gadgets in such a unique way.

meat-nativity
flickr: Greg Chow

Behold the Meat Nativity. It’s made of bacon, breakfast sausage, cocktail wieners and deli meat.  And all that pork is arrayed on a bed of sauerkraut to represent the birth of history’s most famous and beloved Jew.

spam-nativity
Courtesy of whyismarko.com

Yes, that’s Spam. Why is it here? Um, because it’s a nativity scene carved entirely out of Spam?

batman-and-dino-nativity-scene
Courtesy of whyismarko.com

A nativity scene with Batman, multiple Darth Vaders and a T-rex? Yes, please!

tampon-nativity
TamponCrafts.com

And, lastly, we have this: a nativity scene made using tampons. But, that’s not the weirdest thing about this scene: it comes from TamponCrafts.com, a legitimate craft site that teaches you how to make things with tampons. Their tagline? “For any time of the month.”

Zombies In The Crèche?

Think this is a nice, peaceful nativity scene? Look a little closer.
Think this is a nice, peaceful nativity scene? Look a little closer.

As the song says, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”. And, that’s true…, as long as you color within the lines. But, if your approach to celebrating Christmas falls outside the norm, it is so not “the hap-hap-happiest season of all”. Don’t believe me? Just ask Jasen and Amanda Dixon of Sycamore, Ohio.

Like many people this time of year, the Dixon’s put up a life-size nativity scene. Unlike many people, their nativity scene is pissing people off. Why? Because everyone in this particular crèche, the baby Jesus, Joseph, Mary, the shepherds and the wise men, are zombies. Yes, beloved, you read that right: zombies. As in the undead, walkers, ghouls, zeds…, well, I think you get my point. And, that’s not sitting well with some folks.

If you’re thinking that those folks are religious, you’d be right. Last year, when Dixon first put up his zombie-themed nativity scene, a Baptist pastor from Indiana took to the internet, saying “The blasphemy that’s going on. The blasphemy!” And, this year, some other Baptists left a pamphlet that said “GOD FROWNS UPON THIS MANGER SCENE”. Someone needs to tell these people they are not helping the brand.

Now, I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure the Divine’s panties are not in a wad over a manger scene in a small, central Ohio town. In reality, there are much bigger fish to fry than one man’s twisted representation of Jesus’ birth. Like, say, the fact that too many people in this world don’t have any fish to fry.

Of course, it’s not just the religious community that’s having a hissy fit over the Dixons’ holiday decorating choices; Sycamore town officials are not pleased. Not, they say, because his crèche is offensive to Christians, but because it violates zoning regulations. Yeah, that’s the ticket. I’m sure none of the council members are God-fearing church folks who are offended by the display and are using their position to defend their faith (and by “defend their faith”, I mean “shit on others”). Christians just don’t roll that way. Right?

The town isn’t playing around, either. Last year, officials let things slide and dropped the charges. But, this time around, they’re a little less forgiving. They rejected Dixon’s permit application and are threatening to fine the couple $500 a day as long as the scene stays up. Repeated attempts to contact the zoning office have not met with success.

While I, personally, think the Dixons’ crèche is pretty fucking awesome, I can see where it might not be someone else’s cup of tea. But, here’s the thing: if you don’t like it, don’t look at it. I have a feeling that people who are expending so much effort to control how the Dixon’s decorate for Christmas are the same ones who cite infringement of their religious freedom when someone tells them they can’t treat others like shit. I also have a feeling that they see no conflict between those two things.

You know, if your faith can’t handle a relatively easy tweak of the nose like a zombie nativity scene, then maybe you need to rethink that faith. Otherwise, you’re going to spend a lot of time being pissed off. And, I’m pretty sure that’s not what the Gospel is all about.

I’m Dreaming Of A White(washed) Christmas?

Something's missing from this picture, but I'm not quite sure what.
Something’s missing from this picture, but I’m not quite sure what.

Well, I did it, beloved. I made it all the way through Advent without talking about Christmas once (okay, so maybe I mentioned once or twice, But, still…). But, now that the Christmas season is here, I can yammer away as much as I want and not worry that some damn high-church liturgy freak will try to “educate” me about church seasons. At least, I can until January 6th, which is the Feast of the Epiphany. After that, it’s time to prepare for Lent((Oh boy!)), which marginally better than Advent because at least there’s the promise of decent weather at the end. It’s not easy being a curmdugeon at Christmas, but someone has to do it.

Now that Christmas has finally gotten here, let’s talk about something that is usually swept under the rug: racism in our celebration of the holiday. And, if you don’t think this is a thing, you really need to open your eyes because even a cursory look will reveal the racism is evident in Christmas. From art to music to Jolly Old Saint Nick, himself, we have whitewashed this holiday so completely that very little of the original people involved remains.

Let’s start with art. Take a look at Gerard van Hanthorst’s painting of the Nativity:
 1622Gerard_van_Honthorst
 Now, what do you see? A group of people gathered around a manger in a stable, oohing and ahhing over 8 lb 6 oz new born infant Jesus? Sure; but, look a little closer. Notice anything about those people? Like, maybe they’re all white, European folks? That’s interesting since Jesus was born in 1st century Palestine and, at that point, most white European folks didn’t even know that Palestine existed, much live there. To steal from paraphrase a current meme, perhaps Jesus’ greatest miracle was being born a white guy in 1st century Palestine.
Next, there’s music. There are many excellent African-American carols, like this version of Children, Go Where I Send Thee:

If that doesn’t give you the chills, something’s wrong. But, most of us only know about Mahalia Jackson singing Go Tell It On The Mountain. And, even you do look for these songs, good luck finding a version that isn’t performed by white artists. That’s a problem and not just because you’re cheating yourself out of some excellent music by excellent musicians.
Lastly, there’s Saint Nicholas. These days, when you say St. Nick, the first image that pops into people’s minds is of a jolly fat man in a red suit who just happens to be whiter than sour cream, i.e. Santa Claus, probably because Saint Nicholas had a reputation for secret gift-giving. While that reputation seems to be based on legend and folklore((which is still cool since it inspires people to be a little less shitty to others, if only once a year)), we do know some things about the real Saint Nicholas: like the fact that he was born into wealthy Greek family in the Roman province of Lycia et Pamphylia, which is now part of Turkey in 270 CE. In other words, St. Nick was one of the brown people, not a lily-white pagan god who ultimately morphed into the jolly fat guy we know today. Here’s an interesting side note: Sinterklaas (a Dutch holiday figure who contributed his name to the current dude) had a sidekick named Zwarte Piet, who just happens to be a black guy. While Sinterklaas has pagan roots((see “lily-white pagan god” link above)), Zwarte Piet’s origins are little later, sometime around 1850. But, even here, people of color get screwed because Zwarte Piet is traditionally played by a white person in blackface. Isn’t that nice?
Like everything else in this world, Christmas wouldn’t be what it is without our brothers and sisters of color. Maybe it’s about time we realized that and did something about it.

Did it Really Happen That Way?

nativity sceneAs this season of Advent began, I had all intentions of doing several posts about it. Events, however, didn’t allow for that because I try to write about things while they’re current and the events in  Newtown were something that couldn’t be ignored. But, while there are things I still want to address on that subject, today I’m back to Advent and the Christmas story.

You may or may not know it, but the classic nativity scene (in a stable, with the magi, shepherds and animals all present together) appears nowhere in the Bible. While Luke says that when Jesus was born, he was laid in a manger, it never says he was born in a stable and the magi appear nowhere in his story. Matthew, however, has wise men, but no shepherds and says very little about His actual birth and just says He was born in Bethlehem; the Magi didn’t come on the scene till sometime after. So, where did this iconic picture come from? St. Francis of Assisi, that’s where. In 1223, Francis and, probably, some monks of his order arranged the first nativity scene which included both the magi and the shepherds. Because Luke mentions a manger, someone decided he must have been born in a stable and, because stables house animals, they brought in some livestock. Voila, you have the classic nativity scene. It’s pretty, it’s traditional and, in reality, doesn’t have much to do with the biblical stories of Jesus’ birth.

There are other issues with those stories. The Gospels, accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry, are split on the topic. Two, Mark and John, don’t even mention it, both starting with his baptism by John. Matthew and Luke, who do talk about it, don’t tell the same story. Both say He was born in Bethlehem and, beyond that, they’re completely different. Luke tells a story about a child born in less than auspicious circumstances while Matthew’s story does more to paint Him as a successor to Moses and David. There are events in both that cloud the issue even further: a virgin birth, the murder of children and a census that aren’t listed in historical accounts, trips that stretch credibility and angels. How do we reconcile all these crazy things?

First of all, stop reading these stories as historical accounts; they’re not and were never meant to be. Like the early books of the Old Testament, they function better as allegory, i.e. a symbolic narrative; in this case, the symbol being that Jesus was special. They were written this way because the writers obviously thought that someone as special as Jesus must have had a special birth. The title of this article is “Did it Really Happen That Way?” The answer  is it doesn’t really matter. The circumstances of Jesus’ birth, other than being a poor Jewish kid, mean very little. What does matter is what He did after that birth: He brought hope to the hopeless. He expects us to do the same.