Friday, December 08, 2006

O (not so little) town of Bethlehem

If I’ve learned anything from Louis XIV, it’s that wearing high heels makes your ankles look slimmer. No, that wasn’t it. I was going to say that I learned from Louis to surround myself with people who treat me like royalty and make me look good. My sister in law Echo is just such a person. Not only did she make lasagna for my poor family this week (and bring a double batch to freeze for later) but she suggested I write about our family’s Belén tradition. What a great idea. If anything qualifies as a Christmas work of art, the family Belén does. I can take zero credit for the photographs (Echo’s), or the nicely organized website where they are displayed (Echo’s again), or the enormously artistic process of making the Belén pieces and setting it up every year (my mother and sister Teri). I did, however, take the lasagna out of the oven. I’m not totally worthless.


The beautiful insanity of the Belén began innocuously enough when my parents returned from a mission to Spain a few years ago. In Spain, they had seen families setting up Bethlehem villages in their homes using clay figurines. My parents collected a “starter” set of a few dozen pieces to bring home with them. Since then, the census taken each year in the “city of David” has revealed a burgeoning growth rate. From a small village set up against one wall, Bethlehem has expanded to a metropolis that fills the entire living room. Last year it included hundreds of people and buildings, a complex topography that blended into the rock fireplace, and a waterway complete with a Galilean fishing boat and crew.

If you think that the crazy creative people responsible for this amazing production probably don’t sleep for much of the month of December, you’re exactly right. My mother and sister Teri pretty much allow this project to consume their lives for several weeks, for which those of us slugs who just get to enjoy it when it’s done are indeed grateful. Many friends, neighbors, and total strangers lured by the legend come to see the Belén every year. Its finest hour, however, is on Christmas eve when the kids and grandkids crowd into what space is left in the living room and watch as my mother shines a flashlight onto the various locations while my dad reads the scriptural account of Jesus’ birth.

Sadly, because of a huge flood in the basement (and subsequent ill packing job by the disaster recovery flunkies) Teri and Mom have decided to keep their sanity this year and keep the whole thing in storage. It’s tragic, but I suspect we will all survive and be even more grateful to visit Bethlehem next year.

10 comments:

meno said...

Your SIL's name is Echo? That's lovely.

As is the picture of your family tradition. I mourn the flood that took it all away this year.

And lasagne? A wonderful woman.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I have never heard of this before. I am sure it would be absolutely amazing to see it in person - maybe some year! Do a lot of people in the states do these Belen towns?

What a neat family tradition. I am sure the kids and grandkids will always remember this for years to come.

By the way, how is the foot doing? Glad to know you didn't burn yourself getting the lasagna out or drop it on the floor :) !! I broke my thumb in college and every once in awhile it just goes out on me ... like when I am trying to take freshly baked chocolate chip cookies out of the oven. What a total loss those cookies were.

Anonymous said...

This looks really cool, though I can see its obsession potential. Not that it would be a bad thing. Maybe the growing is similar to how people take "normal" outdoor Christmas light displays - whatever that means - and over a period of years, turn them into multi megawatt monstrosities.

But where an overdone outdoor light show is usually just-- well, overdone, *this* looks like it would get more cool as it grew.

Also, re: your first paragraph - do you blend similarly fine comedy into your classroom presentations and if so, do many of your students "get" it? Not that it's hard to get, but classrooms are notorious for invisible signage and "no funnybone stimulus allowed" is a common one.

Bernita said...

It's lovely.
Thinking outside the creche as it were.

Ann Kroeker said...

Oh. My. Stars.

That is beautiful.

Just for fun, if I can get my technologically backward resources in gear, I will photograph our, um, well, I don't know what to call it. But it ain't this Belen beauty.

It will make for a humorous contrast.

I'll post it on my blog today or tomorrow.

But let me end by saying that is truly spectacular. I'd love to have it in my home, as oversized and obsessive as it may be.

Anonymous said...

What a cool tradition. My mom does the Christmas village thing and it is a tremendous amount of work. This is field trip worthy!

Julie said...

Meno
Yes, it really is Echo. (And she's a lovely person too.) We used to say her name twice, but that's a joke that gets old after a few hundred times.

Ordinary Mom
I have only heard of a few other examples and they were all from people who had lived in Spain at one point of another. It seems to be an imported tradition.

The foot is fine actually. It really rarely hurts. It's just the incredible hassle of using crutches constantly that's a pain in the neck (and a pain in the armpits, and the palms and the left foot...).

RaJam
I agree with you on the overdone lights. I like this tradition because it has more meaning.

I don't think most of my students get my sense of humor. I assigned a quiz this week on Existentialism and considering the topic, I thought it would be fun to include the following question: "In 42 words or less, explain the meaning of life." I also told them in the instructions to think deeply but not to bother answering the last question. Did they misunderstand? Yes of course.

Bernita,
"Thinking outside the creche" -- what a great line. Some of us also collect creches (one of my favorites is an all-chocolate one my parents brought me from Spain) but the Belen is certainly unique.

Ann
Keep me posted on when you post your post. :)

Jenn
Come visit next year!

Sandra Tayler said...

I was all set to beg for a tour when you mentioned that Bethlehem isn't making an appearance this year. Did they really paint those rays of light on the wall?

Julie said...

Sandra,
Yes they painted the whole wall (blue speckled with rays of light and all). Did I mention the word crazy anywhere in there? Actually it is always beautiful and the wall gets repainted (by February or so...)

I'll remember to invite you over next year. I hope they'll be moved into their new home by December so they'll have even more room for things to EXPAND.

The Lazy Organizer said...

Can we just put my name on that second lasagne? I meant to bring you one.

That is too amazing! It doesn't belong in a living room. It belongs in a museum! Can I come see it next year?