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Following faith: For unto us is born — a host of 'ugly' Nativities

Published December 15, 2011 5:43 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Few stories are as elastic and open to diverse depictions as the tale of the babe in the manger. It is, after all, an intimate story about family — mother, father, baby. It tells of a child, at once humble and heroic, about the immense power of possibility and the subtle strength of a god in embryo.By how it is crafted, a Nativity scene can reveal an artist's theology, culture and values, yet transcend dogma or ritual.But is there a limit to the artistic depictions of Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus? Do some creches cross the line of devotion, to say nothing of good taste?Mark Oestreicher, a youth minister in Southern California, points out some 27 candidates for beyond-the-pale Nativity sets. On his blog, Oestreicher displays scenes where the main characters are cats, dogs, penguins, chickens, teddy bears and rubber ducks. One has a mouse drummer boy, another features naked trolls. There's the Nativity kitchen timer, where the holy family spins around on top. How about the ones made of marshmallows or s'mores or, gulp, Spam?No collection would be complete, he says, without the zombie nativity or the set made out of shotgun shells.The Christian leader does acknowledge, however, that he has a few nativities in his own collection, including a set of hand-painted stacking dolls he purchased in Prague and another faceless wooden set he found in the real Bethlehem.He showcases one he received as a gift from his parents that he dubs his "oddest one.""I call it the Siamese holy family," Oestreicher writes. "If you look close, you'll see that [Joseph] and Mary have one body from the waist down, but split into two above the waist. I bet that made childbirth extremely awkward."What's your favorite kitschy Nativity?Peggy Fletcher Stack