Nativity Scenes Bring Christian Communities Together

Article excerpt

Somewhere along their journey to Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph found themselves in a Horne's Department Store.

About 20 years ago, Walt Mowery, a member of Mt. Hope Community Church, brought two mannequins from the former Downtown department store to the Penn Hills church to depict Mary and Joseph each Christmas. They've disappeared and reappeared twice, and members of the congregation still care for them lovingly.

"They make me remember what the holidays are really about," said Doris Kuhn of Penn Hills, who helps spruce up the figures for the church's annual display. "We have so many Christmas traditions, but this one is the true meaning of Christmas."

A Christian tradition, the creche, or Nativity, portrays the birth of Christ, typically showing Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus in a wooden stable. The figures range from tiny to life-sized, accompanied by animals, three kings and sometimes an angel. This time of year, such scenes are easy to find throughout the region -- in front yards, around churches and at special events.

The variety among nearly 300 on display at Sisters of St. Francis of the Providence of God fascinates visitors, said Sister Mary Ann Lostoski, community minister at the Whitehall motherhouse. Lostoski has seen creches made of coal, rags and even embroidery.

"Every one is different, but they all tell the same story of the true meaning of Christmas," said Lostoski, 71. "That's what this generation needs -- a little bit more than Santa Claus."

The religious connection keeps nativity scenes away from many public areas. Just as arguments erupted in Pittsburgh years ago, Canonsburg officials this week decided to keep a creche outside the borough building even though a resident complained, but will display secular holiday items, as well.

Many municipalities limit seasonal decorations to trees, wreaths and lights. Sometimes, it's a matter of what budgets can afford, said Bruce Light, Penn Township manager. …