Christmas is a busy time of year with gifts to buy, decorations to hang and events to enjoy. It’s important to remember the true meaning of Christmas. For the past 22 years, the Washington National Cathedral has been reminding people about Jesus’ birth in an exhibit titled O Come Let Us Adore Him, an annual crèche exhibit.
The beautiful display invites people of all ages and from all walks of life to view crèches, or nativities, from various countries and cultures from around the world. There are close to sixty nativity sets to view and admire in glass cases.
The crèche from Nicaragua was presented as a gift from the Ambassador of Nicaragua to the Cathedral in 1999. The simple nativity is carved from rose soap stone and the shades are inherent in the figures.
Many countries, including several Latin American ones used pottery to create their nativity scenes. At first sight, the Portugal set looks reminiscent to the house in the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale. No, it’s not made of candy, but the colors and designs look like starlight peppermints. Made in the famous art pottery center of Barcelos, a cockerel, for which the region is famous, sits on top of the stable instead of an angel.
It’s amazing what you can use to create art. The majority of the scenes are made of wood or clay. There are some unique pieces made from materials such as stained glass, paper-mache, wool, coconut shell and lignite coal.
The United States presents a realistic nativity featuring real gold in the Wise Men’s clothing. The state of Pennsylvania features the nativity in the shape of a cross while Alabama takes a whimsical approach. Colorado’s two level crèche made of dried gourd was inspired by Native Americans. Washington created a nativity from volcanic ash that erupted from Mount Saint Helen!
The continent of Africa has the most interesting history. The different countries and cultures are interpreted in the use of material, attire and color in the pieces. There are two crèches from Kenya with the most interesting of all being the one made of mud and animal dung.
From traditional and simple to modern and abstract, you can appreciate the effort that went into producing these religious works of art. Some cultures believe that Jesus was born in a cave, not a stable. The traditional camel and sheep are represented by water buffalo, ox and jaguars native to other lands.
The exhibition, located in the crypt, is accessible via the gift shop which is a worthwhile stop. There are religious books, train sets, authentic Russian nesting dolls, ornaments and Nativity sets from Bethlehem, Peru, Kenya and the United States. Hidden to the side of the gift shop is a small cart selling coffee and fudge. Restrooms are located on different ends on the same level. Only one location has a changing station.
O Come Let Us Adore Him, an exhibition of nativity scenes from across the globe, runs through Little Christmas or the feast of Epiphany on January 6. Be sure to check the website as the exhibit is closed during certain special events.
Admission is free, but there is a fee for parking during the week. Parking in the Cathedral’s underground garage is free on Sundays for services. Round out your trip and visit the grounds of the National Cathedral.
Left to right; crèche from Nicaragua, Colorado, Hungary and Ireland. Photos courtesy of Kathleen Molloy.