What are the “true” Nativity Figures?

If we trace back the development of today’s representation of the birth of Jesus, “The Christmas Creche” we start with the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, plus some barnyard animals. An early addition was shepherds, who had been visited by angels, and sheep, plus a lamb, which is consistent with the stories in the bible. St Francis of Assisi used live animals and village people to play the various roles for his creation of the Nativity.

A controversy arises with the addition of the Magi or three “Wise Men”. These figures are described by Matthew as visiting the Holy Family in a house as much as two years after Jesus” birth. The purpose of their visit and the role of the Magi is shrouded in mystery and the politics of the day. One version has the Magi coming from Persia (Iran) as spies against Israel and the Roman Empire, which it was part of. The Magi of ancient Persia were priests with great political  influence and reputation for powerful knowledge, even magic. According to this story, the Magi followed a star, (probably the North Star for navigation, but it may have been a comet) and traveled at night. This may have been to avoid the heat of the day or to evade the  Roman soldiers who policed Israel in those days.

No matter, They were captured and take in front of Herod, the Roman puppet King of Israel. A paranoid Herod, already spooked by prophecies from the Old Testament Book of Daniel and the Roman poet Virgil about the birth of a messiah was thrown into a fit of anger by the Magi’s story of following a star to the birth of a great king. Apparently this was the Magi’s intent because Herod enlisted them to travel to Bethlehem( as the prophecy  said) to find this new born messiah for him so he could be killed

We all know how this ended with the three Magi,bearing gifts, found Jesus and confirmed the wonderful story of the shepherds and the Angel marking this as an unusual birth event. So now our creche has the three Kings-the Magi and at least one camel, which they traveled on. More about Nativity figures in another post.

A Nativity Fund Raising Story

We will share with you a wonderful story about raising money to pay for new Nativity set to replace an aged creche. This is written by Joni Lawlor a member of St Paul’s Mission in Hague,  Virginia. We found it inspiring and entertaining.

Joni Lawlor writes “ Last December when uncrating the nativity scene at St Paul’s Mission in Hague Virginia, a couple of things happened. First, a mouse popped out of the box, causing quite a stir among the ladies who were uncrating the set. And secondly, no one could find King Melchior. The aged set was a bit dilapidated with several appendages missing from the shepherds and angels. It was soon after, that Father John O’Donohue, Parochial Vicar at St Paul’s located a beautiful set made  in Italy by fine craftsmen. The nativity set by Fontanini, came  with a large price tag.

And that’s when the idea of holding a “Christmas in July” fund raising event was initiated. July is a perfect month to hold a fund raiser. Our location in the Northern Neck of Virginia brings many summer visitors to St Paul’s.  At times there is standing room only at the three weekend masses.

The Christmas Night company out of  Saratoga Springs NY was very helpful, sending pictures of each piece with their prices on each photo. Parishioners were urged to “adopt” one of the fifteen pieces. The first to go was Baby Jesus, then Mary , Joseph and the Magi. The barn animals were harder to sell but in the end all the pieces were adopted by generous parishioners and visitors. The outdoor  nativity set was also replaced by a beautiful stone/resin set from Christmas Night Inc.

The event followed a 5 pm mass on July 25th ironically, exactly five months from Christmas. Many people stayed to enjoy a wine and cheese reception and to look at photos of the original pieces of the set that hung from a Christmas tree. Father O’Donohue expressed his thanks to all who contributed and urged all to come down to St Paul’s next Christmas to see the new sets.

This is a wonderful story and has prompted us to develop a program to asssist churches with their fund raing programs for new Nativity sets. We will talk more about this in our blog and we encourage readers of this blog to post suggestions as to how we can best assist fund raising.

My Ocean Freight Adventure

In past years, we have avoided offering shipment of our Nativity sets and large outdoor Christmas decorations outside the US and Canada. We even put website notices to that effect on most of our large items. This year, perhaps because of the economy, we have had numerous requests for orders from Europe and the Far East. I decided I had better learn about ocean shipping since air freight is very expensive and most people leave enough time to make less than container (LCL) shipping work.

Using Google, I identified a number of broker and fright forwarding services, some quoting big name shipping lines and some using smaller independent companies. Some of the sites were very useful, as they provided spread sheets that allowed you to calculate the cube and weight of your load, estimated ocean freight and summarized origin options and costs. Other sites were more like electronic brochures and after singing the praises of their various services, required a phone call for an emailed  quote.

Initially, I was annoyed with these non DIY sites but I came to appreciate them when I discovered “the dirty little secret of overseas shipping”, namely that ocean freight is cheap, but charges at destination are expensive and must be quoted for each shipment!To illustrate, let me offer  disguised details of a shipment we recently made to Germany from the Port of New York.

The order was for two pallets of religious statues total weight 397 pounds and cube of 3.68 cubic meters or about 130 cubic feet. This could be similar to say 10 cartons of clothing and personal effects shipped to your new home. The ocean freight was $312.80, charged at $85 per cubic meter and the origin charges, totaling, $305 were for truck pickup and delivery to the dock and customs and handling.

Where it became expensive, was with the destination charges, all charged in Euros. There was insurance, terminal handling, wharfage, delivery order(?), delivery, customs, duty and German Value Added Tax (VAT). Total $$1000.42. Obviously, there are many ways to pay for the welfare state. The VAT was refundable, if paid by the recipient, but not if prepaid by the shipper. Any way, I want bore you with more figures except to summarize and say that a product sold for $2834 cost $1618.22 to deliver to the door in Germany.

Shipping within the US and Canada usually costs between 10% and 25% of the product price so 60% for this order seems a lot until you find out what is involved.

A Real Life Story

We sell a number of our Nativity sets to churches and we often receive a request from a church official or the head of the purchase committee for a reference from another church that has recently purchased a similar set. I am going to share with you a reply we had from one of our unique and satisfied customers. This email was addressed to the president of our company and had a copy of the reference email attached.

“Claire (our president), a gentleman from your company asked if I would mind being used as a reference for your company. I told him that would be fine. I do not remember his name, but would like to him to have a copy of my response to a prospective customer. If you would make sure the appropriate person gets this, I would appreciate it”.

Her email letter then starts” Mr___________, Cedar Island United Methodist Church is a small rural church, we only have about 75 members, but do have a lot of children (what a blessing). We have had an old plastic nativity set since I can remember. We decided a couple of years ago that we were going to start a nativity scene fund and just have members what they could along. We began getting $5.00 and $10.00 donations. It took us a while but we finally raised what we needed to make a purchase. When I called Christmas Night Inc. they did not have the set we wanted (the 5 piece, we were going to add to each year). A wonderful customer service representative worked with us to get the 10 piece set for not much more than we had raised. God is good, when we made the announcement at church the amount we were short, it was collected that week. We placed the order and it came quickly. One of the wise men’s knees was cracked. we called, simply took a photo and emailed it to the company and within a couple of days we got the replacement. The pieces are absolutely beautiful. We could hardly believe that a small church could have anything that beautiful. It looks like something you would see in a big church in a big city. Needless to say, our members and children are delighted and cannot wait until we bring them out again. The folks at Christmas Night are wonderful and add a personal touch to their customer service. I would recommend this company to anyone looking for a nativity scene for their church. If you have any other questions, please feel free to get in touch with me” (signed) Charran Gaskill

This wonderful letter had us blushing but also wanting to share her heartfelt sentiments.

About Shipping – Continued

Our last blog post began a discussion about something which is very important to retailers on the internet, but which most consumers rarely think about. The safe and timely delivery of your goods is almost taken for granted in the USA and Canada and most of the developed world. The sophisticated and efficient package delivery networks set up by UPS, Fed Ex and DHL provide a nearly seamless service to get you your goods in a few days.

What the person placing the order in our website shopping basket may not know is the choices and decisions that have to made to choose the best shipping option. Amazon, for example, had all sorts of package shipment options when they shipped only books and CD’s. US Postal Service Media Mail, UPS or FedEx Ground are all available for small parcels. When Amazon started selling flat screen TV’s, I am certain their delivery options and cost’s changed.

The same thing happened to us. Our first few season’s  involved the use of UPS Ground to a very great extent. As we focused more on larger outdoor Christmas and garden figures, we use mostly less than truckload( LTL) services with our boxes banded to wood pallets. Recently, we have started to use ocean shipping services as we sell to more overseas customers such as the US Army and foreign churches. The costs and complications of ocean shipping to a foreign country really make us appreciate our huge North American retail market and the relative ease of selling and shipping within it.

About Shipping

We get a lot of questions from visitors and customers about shipping. As more and more retail sales are made over the internet, consumers who never had to think about shipping and delivery before are being faced with new terms and charges. Many websites avoid this problem by offering free shipping on purchases over a minimum purchase threshold, such as $100.00. We do this for smaller items, also, but much of our product is too heavy or bulky to ship by UPS or FedEx and must go by truck.

Truck shipping for us is referred to as LTL or “less than truckload” This describes  product weighing over 50 lbs and up to 1000 lbs or more and shipped on wood pallets. This is generally more costly than parcel shipping but may have the benefit of reducing damage to breakable Christmas or garden statues. The price of shipping an item by truck changes very nearly every day with the cost of diesel fuel and we obtain this from various truckers websites. We prefer to use trucking companies that provide safe handling of our statues and figures by ensuring that nothing can be loaded on top of our pallets. If heavy product is loaded on top of our pallets, we can get what we call the “tall poppy” effect, where the heads of several of the figures have been lopped off when they arrive.

Our objective is for our product to arrive at our customer’s location in perfect condition with no crushed, ripped or pierced boxes and with the statues in perfect condition and ready to be displayed. I will talk more about shipping in my next post.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Nativity – Continued

This is the fourth and final posting in this series. I welcome any thoughts and suggestions from customers and visitors as to what more I can add to this information.

How Long Should my Nativity Set Last?

The modern Nativity Set (which sounds like a contradiction in terms) is really a piece of sculpture art and should be treated as such. Despite their durable construction, the figures will break or crack if they are dropped or fall over onto a hard surface such as frozen ground or a concrete walkway. As a result, we try to ship all of our large Nativity figures by truck in reinforced cartons attached to wood pallets rather than expose them to the abuse they receive when shipped with the various package delivery services. If the figures sit in water, even if it does not freeze, the paint is likely to chip or flake. If the Nativity figures are cleaned with a detergent or liquid cleaner or washed off with a power washer or high pressure hose, the surface may chip off or be damaged.

We recommend at the end of the Christmas season, the figures should be brought under cover or inside and allowed to dry. Dirt, bird droppings or other debris should be wiped off gently with a slightly damp cloth and the figures should be stored in a dry area, preferably in the original shipping cartons.

Please keep in mind that these figures are under your care, custody and control so they cannot be guaranteed by the manufacturer, importer or retailer. Nevertheless, assuming a five or six week annual display period and proper care, cleaning and storage, your Nativity set should last a good long time

About Stories

We originally added stories to our website to improve our Google page positions with more relevant content. We wrote our own stories and requested Christmas and St Francis related stories from friends and families. We also paid professional writers for new and imaginative stories. Much to our surprise and delight, these  stories became an important part of our website and even a destination for some customers.

Our latest  customer satisfaction survey had several requests for new stories and favorable comments on what we already have. Based on our experience, so far and the favorable comments, we have decided to have our new stories written by Brian “Fox” Ellis a well known writer and storyteller from Illinois. Brian Ellis has been collecting and telling stories for more than 25 years. He speaks and performs in such diverse  venues as riverboats, science conferences, schools churches and libraries. He performs several one man storytelling “shows” as Charles Darwin, Walt Whitman, John James Audubon and relates stories of Abraham Lincoln.

Brian Ellis has written ten books including the award winning childrens picture book The Web at Dragonfly Pond. Christmas Night Inc  has recently added Kneeling Santa Claus at the Manger and Who is Welcome at His House by Brian “Fox” Ellis. Please visit him on his website www.foxtalesint.com

Things to Consider When Choosing a Nativity Set-Continued

This is the third installment of our series. We hope you find it useful.

How do I secure my Nativity Set against theft and damage?

Unfortunately Nativity figures displayed outdoors are a ready target for vandalism and theft. Every Christmas season brings newspaper and web reports of a stolen or damaged Christ Child,Nativity animal or even a King. Much of this can be attributed to teenage dares and drunken hi-jinks, but a small percentage is malicious.

No security method, including locks and chains will prevent a determined thief from taking a Nativity figure. Nevertheless, you can tether or attach your pieces to your Nativity stable or to the ground in such a way as to deter an easy “snatch and run”  A wood post or concrete  reinforcing bar driven into the ground behind the figure can then be attached to the figure with small link chain, flexible wire or even nylon fishing line. When a wood stable is part of the display, pieces of steel plasterboard lath can be bent at right angles ( if it isn’t already 90 deg) and can be screwed to the stable base and attached to the figure. We do not recommend driving a screw into the fiberglass or polyresin figures as they can crack.

Any of these methods will also be suitable to prevent the figures being tipped over by vandals or being blown over by high winds. Tall figures falling onto hard surfaces or frozen ground are likely to crack.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Nativity Set -Continued

Last week we began a series discussing some of the important factors to consider when choosing a Nativity set and we focussed on outside display. This week we will talk about lighting and security.

How Should I light My Set?

The hollow ” blow mold” nativity sets, so popular and visible for the last forty years have been replaced by solid molded statues. I won’t get into the reasons for this transition which are a combination of manufacturing and shipping economics. I will say that this change has left many “blow mold” collectors very disappointed. The ” blow mold” pieces are hollow plastic shells and are lighted from the inside with 7 watt and 25 watt bulbs contained in UL/CSA listed electrical components.

The new, solid Nativity figures must be lighted with spotlights. If displayed outside, these spotlights must be designed and approved for outdoor use by UL or some other electrical authority. The spotlights may be purchased at your local or big box hardware store for less than ten dollars. Please follow their installation instructions carefully and do not install in standing water or very damp environments

The Nativity set figures can be displayed in and around a wood Nativty stable and the lighting can be used to create a dramatic scene.