The crèche is a peaceful display, a pastoral scene that is reminiscent of all the best things about childhood and Christmastime that I can remember—a stable, a starry sky, shepherds tending their sheep, angels on high, choirs of angels, and the placing of the child in a manger. Advent (from the Latin word adventus that means ‘coming’) is an important time in the church calendar, since it is a time of preparation for the birth of Christ. There is a lot of symbolism and ritual in the Church. We really prepared for Christmas in Catholic grade school (grades 1-8), starting already at the end of November. In art class we made a Judah tree, which is really the family tree of Jesus, but I don’t remember all the particulars, just that Mrs. Downey, our art teacher, had us use construction paper to design, cut out, and build a tree on which we placed the different ancestors of Jesus. We hung the tree in the classroom. An interesting way to learn biblical history, but I don’t remember much of it all these years later if that was the intent. We also spent time analyzing some of the famous paintings of the Annunciation (when Mary learned from the angel Gabriel that she was to be the mother of Jesus). We learned about the meaning of the Christmas tree; usually an evergreen tree, it is the symbol of the everlasting Christ. All of what we learned was related to the nativity. My parents also set up a small table-top crèche each year, and I continue that tradition.
There is a bookstore in Akersgata in Oslo called Bok og Media, which is one of the oldest bookstores in Oslo and also a bookstore that has a large amount of Christian literature and media (http://bokogmedia.no/bm/main/bm9001/document/document11/Bok+%26+Media+Oslo.html). It has a special exhibition on the lower floor that they open to the public at Christmastime. You enter a long passageway, and as you enter, you are welcomed by the history of the Old Testament written on the wall leading up to the birth of Christ, as well as a map of the entire biblical area showing Galilee, Nazareth and Bethlehem, among others. As you proceed along the passageway, you will see that it is lined with crèches from countries all over the world. The last room before you exit is a room that is actually a life-size stable with a life-size crèche display. There are benches in front of it so that you can sit and reflect on the scene in front of you, while peaceful Christmas music plays softly in the background. When you emerge from the exhibition, you come out into an area of the bookstore that sells crèches and crèche figures, as well as Christmas music and books and other Christmas items. It is well-worth a trip to experience this exhibition. I have been there twice, and will definitely go back again. It is one of the many ‘hidden’ treasures of Oslo that someone needs to tell you about, otherwise you will never know they are there. The hidden treasures are some of the things I want to tell you, my readers, about in this blog.