The Jennings OLHC Manger Scene Circa 1965

Last Christmas I noticed that I had neglected talking about the history of Christmas traditions in my family when I was growing up.  So I decided to remedy that.  I wrote two posts last year at Christmas time and this is the second one I’m doing this year.  I planned this one last year after seeing a photo of the manger scene from the Catholic church that our family attended.  I got the photo from one of our neighbors back then.  (Thanks, Lionel K. for the photo.  I’m not sure where the photo came from because I saw it again this year and Mike C. was credited.  Again, thanks.)

OLHC Christmas manger scene circa 1965 in Jennings, Louisiana.

Here is what the original photo looks like.   This was the manger scene that was set up every year at the side altar of Our Lady Help of Christians Catholic Church in Jennings, Louisiana.  This is a large stone church that was built in 1916.  It has beautiful stained-glass windows in it that capture your attention.

But during the season of Advent leading up the Christmas, the thing that got people’s attention (at least it always got mine) was the manger scene that was set up to the side of the main altar.  I’ve heard (via Facebook) that the person responsible for the figures and background was a Mrs. Annette Hebert, with the possible assistance of the Ladies Altar Society.  I don’t remember her, but I am a fan of her work.

But this photo doesn’t look like the way I remember it.  Sure, it has the manger with Mary and Joseph in it.  At midnight mass, part of the processional was bringing the figure of the baby Jesus to the manger.  Later on the three wise men would make their way to visit the baby Jesus.  There are people standing around on the mountainside looking out to see what was going on.  (It probably wasn’t meant to be a hill or mountain, it was to show things in the distance.  It was always a mountain to me!) 

My version of the photo from 1965.

But when I was a kid, I remember being in awe of it when we went to midnight mass.  So I edited the photo to better represent the way I remember seeing it.  I tried to get it to convey the feelings I had back then when my family and I would stand around it and point out things we could make out.  So I brought myself back to that time and place as I worked on the photo.

“Look,” I said, “there’s a kid up on the mountainside!”  Karen commented on how much she loved Mary’s blue dress.  My mom was so glad she never had to give birth in such a crude environment. 

Jodie said, “Look, that guy is playing the flute.”  My dad would just nod in agreement.  There were so many details to see among the twinkling lights and people standing about.  As I came out of my reverie, I found that I had tears in my eyes.  I had to say goodbye again to my parents and two sisters.  I figured that I got the feeling of the photo right if it did that to me!

The image isn’t much to look at on a glance.  For best effect, it helps to look at it in as large of a format that you can in a darkened room.  Then you can start to make out some of the details – the darkened church walls, the dim light coming through the window, the glowing lights scattered about, the figures standing around telling their story.

But you don’t really have to.  This is about me and my family’s memories.  I’m sure you all have your own.  And we can always make more.  So love the people around you and show them kindness.  But most of all, have yourself a merry little Christmas.

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