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COLUMN: An eclectic gathering around the manger

Giraffes, hipsters and outsiders can find a place at the nativity scene
A “hipster” version of the Nativity scene is displayed at Saint-Joseph’s Oratory’s museum Monday, December 10, 2018 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

There was a giraffe at the manger.

This was the scene eight or nine years ago, at a special Christmas service at the church. The children were doing a presentation with story and song, and they had a nativity scene set up, depicting the birth of Jesus as recorded in the Bible.

Some children were dressed as Mary and Joseph, the wise men and the shepherds. Others were dressed as sheep and cows. And one child, maybe three or four years old, was in a Halloween giraffe costume.

Giraffes do not normally appear in depictions of the Biblical story. These animals live in Africa. In Israel and Palestine, where the story takes place, a giraffe would have been an outsider, thousands of kilometres from home.

But somehow, this giraffe did not seem out of place. It was just another animal in the stable.

There was something comforting in that scene. If there was room for a giraffe, maybe there is also room for others who feel like outsiders.

A few years later, I came across a different nativity scene. I didn’t see this in a church. Rather, it was mentioned in a news story about an unusual nativity display.

It was a model which could be purchased online. It included Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. There was a shepherd, a cow, a sheep and three wise men, each with gifts. These pieces of the display appear time and again.

But this was a scene unlike anything I had seen earlier. The shepherd had earbuds and was scrolling through his playlist. The wise men were on Segway scooters, with gift boxes purchased from Amazon, the online retail platform. They were wearing cool hats. Mary and Joseph were taking a selfie, using a smart phone.

The hipster nativity scene generated some controversy when it appeared. Some thought it was a glib, flippant take on an important story in the Christian faith.

I thought this scene was brilliant and insightful.

Each of the characters depicted here would have fit in where I live. Well, the wise men might not have used Segway scooters, as those haven’t really caught on around me, but the other elements are all part of my world. The characters looked like people I know or people I have met.

Holiday season images often contain elements of history or nostalgia and allow the comfort of memories and familiar settings. In contrast, the characters depicted here were part of our present time. In this nativity scene, Christmas had become contemporary. People around me could gather at the manger, and they wouldn’t be out of place.

This unusual display showed me Christmas is for everyone, in every time. In depicting an age-old story, I saw people who are part of my town and my present-day world. These are the people in my neighbourhood.

Christmas should be a time where all are welcomed. In an ideal world, a Christmas gathering could include a shepherd scrolling a play list, hipster wise men with Amazon packages and a couple taking a selfie. Celebrations could have a diverse, eclectic mix.

There might even be room for a giraffe.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

John Arendt

About the Author: John Arendt

John Arendt has worked as a journalist for more than 30 years. He has a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Journalism degree from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute.
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