Nativity sets delight, amaze at church

Posted Dec. 07, 2008, at 10:13 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Taylor Hymas knew he had a big responsibility Saturday when he portrayed Joseph in a living Nativity pageant at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as part of the church’s ninth annual creche exhibit.

The 13-year-old boy said the purpose of re-creating the Nativity was “so people know why we celebrate Christmas.”

“The original purpose was not getting presents,” he said in between presentations. “Christmas is about the birth of Christ.”

That is the reason the church has held the event annually since 1999, according to Haze Martin, president of the LDS stake, the Mormon equivalent of a diocese or district in other denominations.

“This is the largest exhibit we’ve ever had,” he said Saturday. “We have about 520 Nativity [scenes]. They are all on loan from individuals.

“What always amazes me is the variety,” he said. “They are all different, but they all have a commonality.”

Three years ago Martin and his wife, Anganette Martin, constructed a nearly life-size creche from chicken wire, papier-mache and drywall mud. They built the Nativity scene specifically for the creche exhibit. It was the largest set on display Saturday.

The smallest was painted on a copal incense seed that is brown and shaped like a coffee bean but about twice the size. It is used to make incense and is sacred to the Maya and Aztecs of Central America, according to herbalfire.com.

The Nativity sets come from nearly every continent and dozens of countries around the world. Joseph, Mary, the Magi and the Christ child resemble the people from the nation where the Nativity set was made. In the set from Guatemala, they wear serapes. The carved set from Africa shows Wise Men carrying spears and sporting loincloths.

The church carefully lights and displays the creches on colored cloth and under lighting similar to that used in jewelry store window displays. This year, the exhibit includes paintings portraying the life of Christ from LDS churches in Maine and New Hampshire and from private donors.

Norma L’Abbe of Merrimack, Mass., heard something about the creche exhibit on the television news Friday night while visiting her friend Marguerite Whitcomb of Exeter. Neither woman was familiar enough with Bangor to know exactly where the church was located.

“We were talking about it at lunch at Governor’s [Restaurant on Broadway in Bangor], and the woman in the next booth overheard us,” L’Abbe said Saturday. “She told us how to get here.”

The women, both widows, said that they wished their husbands could have shared the visit with them.

“I am just amazed at the variety and the number of countries represented,” L’Abbe said of the exhibit. “They have every kind from the teeny-tiny to the enormous.”

L’Abbe, who had not completed her tour of the exhibit, said that so far she hadn’t seen a creche like the one at home on her coffee table.

“It looks like alabaster,” she said. “I bought a piece of it a month from Avon back in the 1980s. If there’s not one like it, I’d let them display it next year.”

That is how the church gets many of its new Nativity sets for the show each year, according to Martin. People who visit the show often leave their contact information, and the church calls them the next year to see if they’d like to lend something to the show.

Living Nativity Events

Bangor — 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13, Neighborhood Church, 263 Texas Ave., 945-9937; snow date is Sunday, Dec. 14.

Belfast — 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, and Sunday, Dec. 13, Little River Baptist Church, 259 Northport Ave., 338-1006.

Winterport — 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 19, and Saturday, Dec. 20, on the grounds of the Historical Union Meeting House, Route 1A, 223-4088.

The creche exhibit will be open from noon to 8 p.m. today at the Church of Latter-day Saints, Grandview Avenue and Essex Street in Bangor.

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