Waiting on the Baby

A Baby Too

Jesus was a baby, too.

Round and soft and frail like you.

Mary cuddled him close and warm

while Joseph kept him safe from harm.

Shepherds came him to adore.

Wise men followed the shining star

to a stable small and dim

and found the sleeping babe within.

Gifts they brought for the baby small

for He was born to save us all.

            By Annette Gagliardi

 

A new liturgical year begins on December 2cd, with the season of Advent. Our home revisits the Nativity of Christ and begins to prepare for Christmas. And we wait for his coming. Children become more helpful and less quarrelsome as the holiday draws near. We are asked to “Be watchful! Be alert!

This year I put up my Nativity a week early, so now I can meditate on what the season will bring. And I wait, remaining alert to what is being asked of me, while keeping my eye on the Nativity.

You can thank St. Francis of Assisi for creating the first Nativity scene recorded in history. St. Francis was concerned that the meaning of Christmas was becoming lost as people focused more on the ritual of gift giving than the birth of Jesus Christ. He was determined to remind people what the “reason for the season” was really all about. So, he created (in a cave near Greccio, Italy), a living Nativity scene with real people and real animals..

If you want to read more about St. Francis and the first Nativity, go to this website, titled "How St. Francis Invented the First Nativity Scene" at: https://aleteia.org/2017/12/02/how-st-francis-invented-the-first-nativity-scene/

Today, we hear that same lament: the real meaning of Christmas is getting lost in the buying and gift giving frenzy. Yet, we see Nativity scenes everywhere. Nativity scenes on display at the Vatican, the White House, and in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania are three of the most widely known Nativity sets in the world.

Nativity scenes and sets as we see them today began in the 1300’s and were crafted from terra cotta. They were displayed in Italian Churches year-round. Not until the 1500’s did Nativity sets appear in people’s homes and then only in the homes of the prominent and wealthy. These home Nativity sets were smaller and made from terra cotta, wax or wood and the figures were beautifully clothed.

Modern materials for Nativity sets consist of porcelain, ceramic, resin, wood, china or plastic. The basic nativity set will consist of at least five pieces: the stable, the manger, Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus, who is the focal point of the scene. In addition to these basic pieces, the star of Bethlehem, shepherds, farm animals, the three Wisemen and the Angel Gabriel are often included in bigger sets. Of course, creators such as Fontanini develop hundreds of figurines that provide endless opportunities to create a truly unique scene.

More than anywhere else in the world, the home Nativity scene is seen in Germany. Catholic and Protestant families alike display them in their homes where it is traditional to display all parts of the Nativity set, with the exception of baby Jesus, who is only displayed after Christmas Eve, as before that time he is not yet been born. The Germans have the right idea, I think. With the whole Nativity scene centering around the manger; and Jesus not yet there. We wait upon his holy arrival.

This is the tradition in our home for my ancestry is German. Each year, when I set up the Nativity, I dutifully gather up the infant Jesus and hide him in the china buffet until Christmas Eve. I like to wait until the house is quiet and it is almost midnight – or just past. Then before I go to bed, I search Jesus out and bring him to the manger. There I spend a quiet moment giving thanks for the birth of our Lord and for all the blessings bestowed on us all year.

Putting up and organizing a Nativity Scene is a good way of reminding us about what the true meaning of Christmas is and enables us to share the Nativity story with our young children in a way that they can grasp. Removing the Christ figure helps us live the waiting for his return and the anticipation of the second coming of Christ.

I started collecting Fontanini Nativity figurines in the late 1980’s after seeing my friend’s collection. Paquita, who is a Spaniard, had gathered figurines from around the world, showed us her collection, which snaked around their dining room over radiators, buffets and tables. It was alive with figures on hills, in stables, and around buildings. Her figures were different sizes and she added soft white fluff to represent snow. I was in love the first time I saw them. The figures are so life-like, so detailed and each figure had its own name and story. What’s not to like?

Our figurines have always been moved around by our children and we've had discussions about the names of each figure and what they might be doing. It gives me a chance to think about what life was like during Jesus’ time.

Our “Wiseguys” begin their journey on an end table near the living room couch and travel, some years all over the house, until the sixth of January (Little Christmas or Epiphany) when they reach the manger and present their gifts to the Christ child.

Fontanini is one of the most well known names in Nativity set industry. Not only are the figures detailed and life-like but, they are durable enough for children to handle. That point really sold me because we’ve had a busload of kids in our house almost constantly since our oldest daughter was born in the early 1970’s. So for almost forty years I’ve been collecting one or two figurines a year. I got a stable early on, then the vineyard and later a tent. After that it was usually one new figure each year. I have quite a collection now and don’t feel the need to add.

However, last June my friend called me from our church’s annual rummage sale and said, “Annette! You’ve got to get up to church. They are selling Fontanini figurines for five dollars apiece and today they are half off!” So, I went up there and spent thirty dollars! Now I have a chicken coup and a potters oven and a couple more singers to add to the already ‘plenty enough’ Fontanini collection.

Emmanuele Fontanini opened the doors to his first shop back in 1908. He was a trained Italian artisan. The company has remained in the family hands, with each generation having its turn to lead the company.  It’s now run by his great-grandchildren. Emmanuele was a trained artisan, yet his heirs are not. Even so, they still oversee the tiniest details of each figurine and set, from designing a piece through production.

Creating a new figurine or Nativity set piece is a very detailed process that can take up to two years from beginning to end to complete. The Fontanini family is involved in every step.

First, a design team which includes the Fontanini family and top sculptor Elio Simonetti draws up a design for the new piece. After the design is modified and approved, Simonetti goes to work creating the prototype of clay .

After the prototype's approval, Simonetti re-creates his sculpture in beeswax form, which is then used to create the molds for the figurines to be mass-produced. This version of the figurine or set piece includes all necessary details that would appear in the final product.

The figurines themselves are made using a high quality polymer resin. The polymer helps make the figurine very resistant to breaking or chipping. They will stand up to even the busiest of children, while still being able to retain quality details.

Once the figurine itself is created it goes off to the homes of several skilled artisans to be painted. The figurine is not painted from top to bottom by one painter. No. Each section of the figurine is painted by a different person. Like in an assembly line, the figurine moves from person to person in the painting group.  For instance, one person will paint the robe, the next person may paint the belt, followed by a third painting the hair.  Everything is painted by these artisans, with the exception of the eyes and other facial features.

The master painters paint the eyes and detailed facial features, bringing them to life by capturing the essence of the figurine. This hand painting gives each figurine a uniqueness and heirloom quality as every painter stamps each figure with its own personality.

Fontanini was brought to the USA in 1973 when Roman Inc. gained exclusive rights to distribute here. Fontanini and Roman Inc. have become one of the most respected producers of Nativity sets.

Since their introduction to the US, Fontanini figurines have exploded in popularity with many collectors and hobbyists continually searching for rare and retired pieces. Fontanini has literally hundreds of set pieces and figurines available for its 5-inch collection as well as the other sizes they offer. Every year, Fontanini both retires pieces and releases new pieces.

What is so wonderful about my set, is the opportunity to imagine ourselves there with the Holy Family and in the town of Bethlehem. Perhaps we are feeding the chickens or tending the sheep. Perhaps harvesting the grapes or bringing a newly-made blanket to the baby’s manger.  All in preparation for the birth of our Lord. The children imagine they are the shepherds or the wise men as they travel the figures around the house. I sometimes imagine as well. And we all wait for the infant Jesus to arrive.

 

Resources:

Festive Nativities at: https://festivenativities.com/fontanini-nativity-sets-and-figurines/

History of the Nativity scene: https://festivenativities.com/history-nativity-scene/

Advent Gospel Reflections, Word On Fire, by Bishop Robert Barron, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc. Washington D.C. 2001.

 

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