ROCHESTER — Tiny figures, often found in workshops, constantly remind John Larish that Christmas is coming.
No, Larish isn’t Santa, and the tiny figures are not elves. They’re the figurines found in nativity sets or creches.
Larish, a parishioner at St. Anne Church on Mount Hope Avenue, said he has collected hundreds of creches. In fact, he doesn’t even know how much money he’s spent on the nativity sets since he began collecting them in the 1950s.
“Money was never in the equation,” he said. “It was always the joy in the creche.”
He added that figurines of Jesus and other biblical characters often have taken on the appearance of the artists’ own ethnic groups.
“You name the different groups around the world, and Christ is always seen through their eyes as one of theirs,” he said.
Last year, Larish displayed 200 of his own creches, collected from around the world, in the lobby of his church. This year, with the help of fellow parishioner, Bernie Dick, Larish encouraged parishioners at St. Anne and Brighton’s Our Lady of Lourdes Parish to share their creches as well, and once again, the display cases are filled with nativity sets. Until New Year’s Day, you can see creches from China, Borneo, France, Poland, Russia and other countries, at St. Anne.
There’s a story behind every creche displayed, which is why the two parishes published a booklet titled “Nativity Memories,” Larish said. The booklet’s start-up costs were covered by the Blessed Damien of Molokai Council 11411 of the Knights of Columbus, Larish said, adding that proceeds from booklet sales will be donated to the Rochester Diocese’s Project Rachel, a post-abortion ministry.
“Nativity Memories” contains photos of parishioners’ creches, as well as anecdotes about them or about Christmas in general. The booklet explains that the word “creche is a French derivative of Greccio, pronounced “Grecho.” Greccio was the name of the village where St. Francis of Assisi in 1223 held a Christmas Eve observance that included a manger, a live cow and a donkey.
“Nativity Memories” also explains the stories of such creches as one from St. Brigit’s Parish in Kowak, Tanzania. The parish is “twinned” with Our Lady of Lourdes, according to Father John O’Connor, pastor of the Brighton church. Our Lady of Lourdes has donated about $35,000 annually to St. Brigit’s, he wrote in a booklet article, and the creche was a gift from the African parishioners.
Sonia Dick, Bernie Dick’s daughter, wrote that she has her own collection of 200 creches, including one made out of olivewood from Jerusalem. And her father wrote that his mother used to decorate a “birthday” cake for Jesus each Christmas with a nativity set. One year, he added, the figurines melted into the frosting after a candle on the cake was left burning. “That story has been retold at every Christmas since,” Dick wrote.
Whatever a creche’s story, they all point to the same mystery, Larish said.
“Creches bring the remembrance of the birth, every year, of our redeemer, and we have so much to be thankful for.”