Fran MacLean (left) and Marg Carr view a nativity set featuring an indigenous Holy Family. Photo submitted

Annual display of nativity scenes at Comox Presbyterian Church

Jessie Schut

Special to The Record

Most people who travel come home with a little memento of their journey – a teaspoon, a fridge magnet, or a tea towel – something easy and light to pack.

But when Marg Carr and Fran MacLean travel, they’re on the lookout for something different: a creche created by local artisans depicting the birth of Christ. In more than 40 years of travel to far-flung countries, they’ve amassed quite a collection. They’ve lost count of how many – “Oodles!” says Fran. Many of these sets will be on display at Nativity: Creches of the World Dec. 7 and 8 at Comox Valley Presbyterian Church.

Marg and Fran met playing recreational basketball in Montreal back in the 60s. One year, a mutual friend gave them their first nativity set, a finely-moulded white ceramic one, which they enjoyed displaying. Some years later, while travelling in New Zealand, they saw another they liked, this one hand-carved of native wood featuring a kiwi bird sitting at the manger. And that’s how their collection began.

“We never set out to create a collection,” says Fran. “It just happened.”

Among others, their collection now includes the Holy Family in cast metal, a tiny pewter set no bigger than a thumbnail, a creche nestled in a stone egg, a corn husk nativity, and a painted metal set from Mexico that folds into its own travel case. A glass-walled cabinet in their living room displays 20 of their favourite smaller sets permanently.

One set Marg particularly likes is a hand-made glazed clay set created by a former colleague, an art teacher who depicted the Holy Family as indigenous, since that was her background. Instead of sheep and camels, a buffalo and bear stand beside the creche, and farmers offer baskets of corn and potatoes to the Holy Child.

“I bought that set in Ontario at an art store,” she says. “I particularly wanted it when I realized it was made by my friend and colleague back home in Montreal.”

Nativity: Creches of the World will feature some of these sets, plus more than 200 others lent by other collectors in the Valley. Each set portrays the nativity in a style and materials unique to the country of its origins. The Christmas story unfolds through the eyes of people around the world.

The display is now in its fifth year and has become increasingly popular, attracting hundreds of visitors. It features live music by local musicians, a dress-up room for families, with opportunities to take photos, a craft area for children, and a dark room that features lighted sets.

“It’s so great to be able to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the season, to listen to the beautiful music, and to reflect on the origins of this special time of year,” said a grateful visitor. Admission is free; the church is delighted to offer this display as a gift to the Valley.

The dates of the display are Friday, Dec. 7, from 3-7 p.m., and Saturday, Dec. 8, 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. There is also a special showing Friday, Dec.7, from 1-3 p.m. for seniors and persons with mobility issues.

Comox Valley Presbyterian Church, which is totally wheelchair accessible, is located at 725 Aspen Rd. Visit www.cvpc.ca for more information and photos

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