I know it’s August and that for many Christmas is a long way off but for those makers that specialise in seasonal products, the summer sees the start of our busiest season. In between making for the normal summer fairs and shows, we are also planning and designing ahead, getting our Christmas designs ready to go on sale.
As well as my cat designs, I also design and make bespoke nativity sets. As a child, seeing the large nativity scene appear in church, closely followed by a plethora of fairy lights (which I’m still obsessed with!) was always more of an indicator that Christmas was on its way than any amount of adverts on the TV or trips to Kendal’s or Lewis’ in Manchester to see Father Christmas. At home, we had a naff little plastic crib covered in glitter (it was the 70’s after all!) so the large, almost life size scene at church was a thing of beauty. Later my mum upgraded to a handmade wooden crib with amazing fabric outfits, complete with shepherds, sheep, camels and even palm trees! For the next few years she would treat the family set to a new figure to enhance the scene. One year it was an extra shepherd, the next a handmade stable made by my uncle. She even let us add our own handmade elements in the form of a star so it became a true family set. And, 30+ years later the crib still comes out each Christmas and takes pride of place on the bookcase, as much a centrepiece of our family Christmases as the Christmas Tree itself. My mum does have other nativity sets, from a fabric one with velcroed figures on that my brother and I take great joy in rearranging when she’s not looking (best swap is if you can swap a sheep for an angel!) and her latest addition is a handmade quilted one I made for her last year from a pattern by The Stitch Witch.
All this talk of nativities might lead you to believe I am fairly religious. Actually, I’m not. Spiritual is probably a better word and not in a hippy-dippy kind of way. My best friend is a vicar and I spent nearly 20 years teaching in a Church of England school. I believe you should be good to people and tolerant of others, churches and cathedrals are some of my favourite and most inspiring places I’ve ever been to and I base a lot of my paintings on stained glass, it’s just the ‘organised church’ part of faith I have a problem with. That being said, I absolutely believe Christmas is a time for family and friends and am deeply saddened by the take-over of commercialism and greed. One of my last projects before leaving teaching was a combined literacy and RE event where we created an online advent calendar that revealed The Real Christmas Story and this ignited my love of all things angel and nativity related.
Since setting up on my own as a maker last year, hand built nativity sets have been an important part of my product range. Not because I sell loads of them but to me it’s about what they symbolise, i.e. a traditional, family orientated Christmas. And, it doesn’t matter whether you are a ‘traditional’ family or not, a family is any group of people who choose to be together and love and care about one another. To me opting for a crib, especially a handmade one, is a deliberate choice to turn away from the commerciality and return to the true meaning of Christmas which is hope and goodwill.
Whilst I do offer ‘off the shelf’ designs, I much prefer offering bespoke sets as I want people to get involved in creating the cribs themselves. By choosing the size, style, colour and number of
figures (whether they want the basic Holy Family or herds of shepherds and a full choir of angels!), I give my clients the chance to create something that is completely unique to them and their family. I even offer workshops where people can learn to make figures for themselves to make it truly their own nativity. It used to be traditional for there to be a ‘family bible’ handed down through the family, so why not a ‘family nativity?’ In education we talked a lot about giving pupils ‘ownership’ of their learning and I feel strongly that by involving people in the creation of their own nativity sets, they are creating their own family tradition that can be shared and handed down with generations to come, hopefully giving them and their families wonderful happy memories for years to come.
I’d be really interested to hear what people thought about the idea of a bespoke ‘family crib’. Does anyone else share my, perhaps nostalgic, desire for Christmas as it was when I was a child (with added Christmas Markets – can’t miss them!)? Is there perhaps an equivalent and meaningful centrepiece for non-Christians?
If anyone is interested in learning more, please feel free to contact me firstname.lastname@example.org