Geeking Up Grandma’s Nativity Scene

What exactly is a nativity, anyway?

There are many instances where a specific, trademarked brand of something takes on the meaning of the noun in general: Kleenex, Chapstick, Band-Aid, Aspirin. This is officially called a genericized trademark. I don’t think the Christian Church has trademarked “Nativity,” but it may as well have. Did you know that nativity was a word before it was a diorama of little figurines surrounding a baby in some hay? We went to our trusted Merriam-Webster dictionary site for this:

nativity noun

  1. the process or circumstances of being born: birth; especially capitalized: the birth of Jesus
  2. a horoscope at or of the time of one’s birth
  3. the place of origin

For most people, nowadays, “nativity” only refers to the second part of definition one. Quick recap for non-Christians who have lived in a cave with no internet up until now: Christians believe that Jesus, the central figure of their religion, was born on Christmas, in a barn, surrounded by kings and animals, to a mother who immaculately conceived him. Whew! That is Jesus’ nativity. And, around Christmas, Christians put up nativity scenes, which people call nativities for short. Got it?

When I was a kid, my siblings and I loved to set up our nativity scene. We had a set of porcelain statuettes, and all the regular players were there: the three kings (or wise men); Jesus, Mary and Joseph; a shepherd and some sheep; a couple angels. Now, nerds throughout the Christmas-celebrating world are combining their beloved hobbies with their holiday traditions. So if you want to create your own nativity scene this year, read on. There are all the standbys, like Star Wars, Harry Potter and gaming avatars nativities.

However, I bet you didn’t realize that dinosaurs are extremely popular nativity characters. It’s weird because it seems obvious that the dinosaurs will fight each other and eat the people, not bring gifts and praise.

Another strange take on the tradition is the Pokemon nativity.

Pushing secular views in an overt and historically accurate way, the Freedom From Religion Foundation made this nativity diorama. My favorite part is the astronaut floating at the top.

The weirdest discovery I made this week was the prominence of edible nativities. Let me rephrase that: nativities made from formerly edible materials. I’m not sure I’d want to eat spam after it had been fashioned into small religious icons and left out on the mantle for two weeks. You could combine the nativity idea with your gingerbread house project and kill two traditions with one craft session.

You can create a nativity to suit your own aesthetics, whatever they are. If your problem is that Christmas lacks skeletons and huge, surreal flowers, give a Dia de Los Muertes nativity a try. Your family could even cobble together a scene of favorite pop culture references, creating a beautiful nativity collage. “Who is your favorite strong, independent heroine, kids? One who could go on a long, strenuous hike while pregnant?” Put up a picture of Starbuck from BSG. “Who is your favorite little kid?” Cut out and add a picture of Ed from Cowboy Bebop, as this year’s representative of Jesus. Make it fun and make it yours—celebrating the nativity of whatever you praise.

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