December 23, 2016

Readers share their favorite Christmas memories

Unique Christmas crèche a treasured family heirloom

By Karen Gerhart

My grandfather received one of his most cherished possessions in December of 1937. His friend and co-worker at the St. Meinrad Archabbey Printing Press won it at a Christmas party bingo game.

This friend gave it to my grandfather, a small-town humble man whose calmness and wisdom was palpable as a gift. This cherished present was a crèche, a crib set made in Germany.

The wooden stable, woolen sheep and Nativity figures were all crafted and painted with precision. My grandfather proudly displayed it year after year in his small house under a Christmas tree that he would decorate for his family of five children every Christmas Eve.

The years passed, and he would lose his wife to cancer. His five children would move away and have children of their own. However, the crib set was always on display as new grandchildren discovered it every Christmas, and his quiet house became alive with activity around it each year.

I was his youngest grandchild and only spent a few Christmases at his house before he passed away. However, my dad inherited the crib set. So, one December in 1987, my dad set up the crib set for the first time in his own home with me and my siblings discovering the magic of it all over again.

Every Christmas, my dad tells the story of the origin of the crib set, and now my own two young sons hear this same story and imagine and wonder as they stare at those same woolen sheep and painted Nativity figures that my grandfather handled with such care year after year. 

With each year that passes, my grandfather’s crèche has been a backdrop for so many Christmases. And, again this year, as we gaze in wonder at this most memorable heirloom, we remember my grandfather’s love and the stillness of a winter night with a baby in a manger more than 2,000 years ago.

(Karen Gerhart is a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield.)

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