Hand-carved Nativity

Thanks to think.make.share for featuring my nativity set this Christmas! 

Every year my dad would lug the huge cardboard box downstairs, and that meant it was time to decorate for Christmas. Each fragile ornament had been unceremoniously wadded into newspaper at the end of the previous holiday and flung into the box. We’d rediscover the sparkly tree-topper, the weird Santa toilet seat cover, the reindeer with the broken nose.

But by far the most fun newspaper clump to discover was the one with the many pieces of the nativity set inside. My sister and I would unwrap each ceramic figure and fight about which cow belonged where, wrestling each other over who got to lay baby Jesus in the hay. Once the dust had settled, and we had it arranged to our liking, we’d stand back and admire our work, only to have our mom change everything once we left the room.

I am not a habitual person—every day my showers, bedtimes, best work hours and last coffee seem to happen a little differently—but I love the repetition of traditions. They are threads that run through the years, pull on my heart and connect me to earlier versions of myself. I want those threads for Walt (my kid). And I want the nativity story to be alive and vibrant for him. So I set out to make my own nativity set.

Just after deciding this, in a stroke of perfect timing, I got word that my co-workers Matt Kesler and Steve Burkes were going to be leading a woodworking workshop. Matt helped me cut each piece on the bandsaw to get a rough shape, and then taught me to use hand tools to model them into figures. For a first try at wood carving, each piece has its imperfections (do not look too closely at the camel), but I love it the way you love anything you make by hand. And I hope that Walt will remember it when he grows up and starts creating his own traditions with his family.