Nativity walk puts focus on Christ this Christmas

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A Nativity scene adorns the property once at the heart of the small-but-bustling downtown of De Soto — the train station, since torn down, at Main and Mineral streets.

In the simplest way, the white silhouette cutouts depict Mary and Joseph on either side of their pride and joy — the newborn baby Jesus. Above the manger, the Star of Bethlehem points the way.

"Who would take offense to that?" Sherri Connell asked.

"It's just a mom and a dad and a baby," observed friend Debbie Wilson as they crossed Mineral Street on a chilly and breezy Saturday night, Dec. 10.

Connell and Wilson were among the 12 hearty souls participating in De Soto's first Main Street Nativity Walk, a stroll down the main drag to check out Nativity scenes in storefront windows of the resurgent downtown. A total of 32 business participated.

Several displays feature two-foot tall, lighted figurines while others are sets common under Christmas trees. St. Rose of Lima parishioners loaned out 15 Nativity sets, including one more than 100 years old. One business has 21 nativity displays, while another features a complex, needle-point, multi-panel display that took "hundreds of hours" to stitch, according to walk organizer Terry Baldwin.

Baldwin and St. Rose of Lima pastor Father Alexander Anderson teamed up over the summer to organize the walk, truly Christmas in July. Father Anderson created pamphlets explaining things, then Baldwin did the legwork, distributing them door-to-door to Main Street businesses. Advertisements in the local newspaper and social media got the word out.

Himself a business owner, of Rising Star Martial Arts, Baldwin found several eager participants. "You could feel they wanted to express their faith," said Baldwin, who is in formation with the diaconate class of 2020.

Patti Heath, the owner of The Odd Duck, signed up right away.

"Why not?" said Heath, whose store has a mix of new and old items. "I thought it was a good idea. ... Hopefully, it'll be a tradition."

At Down On Main Street Resale & Flea Market, Nativity scenes were displayed not only in the front window but throughout the consignment area.

"I try to put out as many as I can," said Denise Byren, who owns a consignment booth. "Hopefully people will buy 'em, and maybe it'll rub off."

Other businesses proved to be a harder sell, needing a little prodding and extra in-person marketing from Baldwin. He watched television at one business after getting the thumbs-up, and was invited back. Only one store owner flat-out refused, an unfortunate sign of the times.

Still celebrated more than 2,000 years after the fact, the mom, dad and baby seem to cause consternation in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Just about every year, a town or city somewhere in the U.S. is forced to remove a Nativity scene from the public square — the Holy Family banished as they were in Bethlehem. No room at the inn.

In some quarters, even the word "Christmas" seems to have been all but eliminated from the vernacular. Instead, "holiday" is the adjective of choice for lights, trees, parties, radio and shopping; greeting cards extend "Season's Greetings" or offer "Happy Holidays." A few holdouts wish, "Merry Christmas."

Offense neither is intended nor should it be taken by the Nativity or the language of Christmas. It's just that Catholics and Christians are in joyful moods, celebrating the birth of the central figure in their faith — Jesus Christ, the physical son of the Virgin Mary and the carpenter Joseph from Nazareth. This is why we have the "holiday" season in the first place — Christmas.

Even before the inaugural Nativity Walk, there was no mistaking in De Soto that this is the Christmas season. On the north end of downtown, drivers at a four-way stop can't miss the sheep, cows and donkeys in the live Nativity display at Mahn Funeral Home, an annual project of the St. Rose of Lima Knights of Columbus. 

Centuries-old Nativity tradition provides visual representation of birth of Christ 

Is it a Nativity scene? A manger scene? A creche?

No matter your preference, the centuries-long tradition of the Nativity has helped us better understand the birth of Christ in a very visual way.

St. Francis of Assisi is credited with beginning the tradition in the year 1223, when he was visiting the Italian town of Grecio to celebrate Christmas. It blends two stories: Luke's account of Jesus' birth in a stable, visited by shepherds and witnessed by an angelic host; and the visit of the Magi, three wise men who are led by a star to the Christ child, as written in the Gospel of Matthew.

According to tradition, St. Francis was inspired to recreate the Nativity scene because he was disgusted with the greed and materialism that was rampant in Italy at the time. He felt people had forgotten that Jesus came to us not as a rich king but as a poor child.

"I want to do something that will recall the memory of that child who was born in Bethlehem, to see with bodily eyes the inconveniences of his infancy, how he lay in the manger, and how the ox and ass stood by," St. Francis wrote to his friend Giovanni.

The idea of a nativity scene was so radical that St. Francis wrote to Pope Honorius III, for permission before he moved forward.

Over the centuries, the depictions of Christ's birth in the Nativity have been varied as expressions of cultures from all over the world. Today, the tradition includes setting up Nativity scenes in early Advent, with the Baby Jesus added to the scene on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Family friendly Nativities

Fisher-Price Little People Nativity Set: Includes the main players, plus a light-up star on the stable. Visit www.stlouisreview.com/bQG.

Playmobil Nativity Stable with Manger Playset: Includes the main figures and other accessories, including a functioning lantern. Visit www.stlouisreview.com/bQ7.

Playmobil Three Wise Kings: Includes a camel and the gifts of the Magi. Visit www.stlouisreview.com/bQA.

Giving back

The Good Deeds Manger encourages giving to others in the Christmas season. A piece of straw is placed into an empty manger for each good deed or act of kindness. On Christmas, baby Jesus is placed into the manger lined with straw. Visit www.stlouisreview.com/bQo. Or create your own. Use a small basket and write your good deeds on strips of paper. Use a baby doll for the infant Jesus.

Wise Men Adventures

In an alternative to the Elf on the Shelf, Balthazar, Melchior, Caspar and their camel go on a search for Baby Jesus. Each day, they're placed in a new location, looking for Jesus until the Epiphany in this fun family activity. Read more at Catholic Inspired: www.stlouisreview.com/Tfr

Living Nativity

Our Lady of Guadalupe for Life hosts a re-enactment of the Nativity at its monthly Living Rosary for Life, at 2:30 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 18, at Assumption Parish, 4725 Mattis Road in south St. Louis County.

Lighting the Way

The Way of Lights display at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Ill., includes a live "Journey to Bethlehem." Walk with Joseph, Mary and the animals through the Way of Lights to a life-size Nativity scene. Held on Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays at 9:30 p.m. Visit www.snows.org/events/ way-of-lights/ for more information. 

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