Image: Br Sean Blackwell
The crib in Bethlehem is what Christmas is all about, although with every year that passes it seems that this truth is becoming more and more blurred. We are becoming increasingly aware of the ways in which the Season has become a time for overspending and overindulging, and much has been written on this topic.
It was summed up for me last year when I overheard a young girl outside the GPO shouting at the top of her voice, “I hate Jesus, but I love Santa”. Her friend was convulsed with laughter at her side. Personally, I was deeply saddened at the derision shown to the Nativity of Our Lord, but I cannot deny that her words reflect, albeit less crudely, the opinion of quite a lot of people when they think about Christmas. Many are totally indifferent to its real meaning.
This may be one of the reasons for the reaction of some Dublin-based priests when they first heard the news that the traditional nativity scene outside the Lord Mayor’s residence had been cancelled. “What’s the point of Christmas without Christian symbols?”, asked Fr Bryan Shortall OFM Cap. What indeed?
The Lord Mayor, Caroline Conroy of the Green Party had announced that the live animal crib, which has been a Seasonal attraction outside the Mansion House since 1995, would be replaced by a more inclusive “winter wonderland”.
It is understandable that the priests and many others felt that this was yet another attack on religion and an attempt to secularise Christmas even more. It is not so long ago that cribs in hospitals were seen as causing offense to Muslim and other non-denominational patients. However, when you are in the business of ‘including’ it is inevitable that someone will be ‘excluded’. Fr Aquinas Duff made the point that Cllr Conroy in creating an ‘inclusive’ display was actually ‘excluding’ Christians.
However, on Monday last, the Lord Mayor addressing a meeting of Dublin City Council gave assurances that there would indeed be a crib at the Mansion House, but it just would not feature live animals. She added that some media reports that there would not be a crib this year were erroneous. This, it is to be hoped, may go some way to soothing the outrage that greeted her original announcement. The crib will feature alongside a Christmas sleigh, a post box and children’s choirs and dance groups.
Welcomed by Others
There is of course another very important aspect to all of this and that is animal welfare. The Lord Mayor said she does not believe that animals need to be used to create a better experience or that a busy and noisy city centre is the best location for them. Some cynical observers made the point that this was not part of her initial statement and that the animals have always been well looked after.
However, animal rights activists have welcomed the decision pointing out that animals should not be used for entertainment. In a statement, the National Animal Rights Association’s spokesperson Laura Broxson said that the animals are “put in an enclosure, on display where they have no space to get away from people. They are surrounded by lights, noise, and hundreds of people staring at them.”
Fr Bryan Shortall clarified that he approved of the live Crib as long as the animals were properly cared for.
Government minister Patrick O’Donovan said he will continue to work with the Irish Farmers’ Association on a new location for the live crib. The IFA work with Dublin City Council each year to organise the live crib.
Mayor Conroy in her speech to her fellow councillors said another Lord Mayor can bring the farm animals back but she wants to try something different.
The Moving Crib
While it is certainly true that live animals are not an essential part of a crib, a crib is an essential part of Christmas. Our own Moving Crib at 42 Parnell Square first opened its doors in 1956 and after sixty-six years is still as captivating as when it first began. In fact, it is even more so because much has been added to the original one. It has advanced with the changing times while still bearing witness to the Christmas story.
When you see parents and grandparents bringing little children to visit it is a very uplifting sign that the faith is being handed down from generation to generation. It is a visual delight for children who are fascinated by the various tableaux showing among other scenes, Mary in the middle of the kitchen pots and pans transfixed by the heavenly Angel Gabriel, a busy street in Bethlehem, the wise men’s gorgeous camels and the sumptuously attired dancers and courtiers in King Herod’s Palace.
It all brings wonderfully to life the true meaning of Christmas, that moment when God broke into human history in the form of a tiny babe in a stable in Bethlehem and changed the world forever.
Written by Marie – Therese Cryan