Creative crèches

A display of Christmas Nativity scenes at the Federated Church during Christmas in Edgartown.


“No Room at the Inn” is a display of crèches that will be part of Christmas in Edgartown, and will benefit Habitat for Humanity of Martha’s Vineyard. For the third year, 40 crèches will fill the Federated Church Meetinghouse, showcasing a variety of Nativity scenes. The crèches come from all over the world, including Haiti, Mexico, Germany, and France, and vary in style from elegant glass figures to whimsical cat characters, and matryoshka nesting dolls.

“I collect crèches, and I love them. I started with three or four, and it’s gotten out of hand,” Elizabeth Villard, member of the diaconate committee at the church, laughed.

This year’s display is dedicated to the memory of Alice Goyert, who deeply believed in the mission of the Federated Church as a welcoming community serving God and neighbor. “One of the reasons this event happened in the first place was that Alice said she had a number of crèches, and was happy to loan them,” Villard said. Goyert and her husband had lived in Latin America from 1980 to 1988, and her Nativity scenes come from Buenos Aires, Argentina, São Paulo, Brazil, and Mexico City. “She has passed, but her children were kind enough to give her crèches to me,” Villard said.

The variety of crèches reflects the creativity of the artists who created them. “Last November, I began knitting crèche figures, and I’m almost done. They stand about 5 inches tall. I spent a whole year knitting them. There is also a Hummel porcelain Nativity scene that I’m bringing in,” Villard said.

The crèches range in style from delicate crystal to Haitian scenes crafted out of salvaged oil drums. “Alice’s crystal and glass figures are South American in style. I don’t think Jesus was born in a glass stable, but it’s gorgeous,” Villard chuckled. “There is a 60-year-old German crèche fabricated out of cloth and glue, and others made out of wool and wood. They come from all over the Island. What fascinates me about this is you have your standard ones — Mary, Joseph, and barn animals — but once you get more than five, you realize the diversity of the crèches is just amazing.”

Since 1223, the Nativity scene has been a major subject in Christian art. Animal lover St. Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first live crèche as a means of getting people closer to the Bible at a time when most could not read.

Bethlehem was full of travelers who had come to take part in the Roman census; there was no room in the inns for Joseph and Mary and their newborn child; crèches represent the stable where the family stayed.

“Many Island residents face the same problem that Mary and Joseph faced in Bethlehem,” Villard said. “There is no room in the inn for them.” The crèche exhibit hopes to raise funds for Habitat for Humanity of Martha’s Vineyard, an organization dedicated to eliminating substandard housing and homelessness, a problematic issue on the Island. Habitat will hold a silent auction in the lobby of the Meetinghouse. “The items in the silent auction are pieces that have been donated to us over the past year. They’re largely art and antiques, and they’re really very special. This is our second year doing this, and we’re really pleased to be tied to it,” Greg Orcutt, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Martha’s Vineyard, said. “The theme is so perfectly inline with our mission.”

“No Room at the Inn,” Federated Church, 45 South Summer St., Edgartown. The display will be open from 12 to 4 pm on Saturday, Dec. 9, and from 10 am to 2 pm on Sunday, Dec. 10. Greg Orcutt will be available to answer questions on both days. Children are welcome, and will go home with an illustration of a Nativity scene they can color and cut out.