Latest Information:
Europe
4:07 am
Wed December 25, 2013

Nativity Scenes Liven Centuries-Old French Village

Originally published on Wed December 25, 2013 6:04 pm

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The medieval village of Flavigny, France has livened up its winter streets with nativity scenes, 85 of them exhibited in windows of houses throughout the town. This centuries-old village has been doing this for five years now and it's bringing in crowds of tourists.

NPR's Eleanor Beardsley was one of them and she sent us this Christmas postcard.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: With a population of around 240 in the wintertime, the cobbled streets of Flavigny can seem austere and empty this time of year. Not anymore. Now it's picturesque lanes are full of old folks and young, following treasure maps to find the village's nativity scenes. The Guyot children - five, six and eight - love it.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: It's the second time we've come and it's really great. We saw Jesus and his mama and papa, the kids say.

Now when the winter sun goes down, Flavigny comes to life, says resident Genest Brigand, who had the idea of the nativity contest.

GENEST BRIGAND: (Through translator) Usually it's dark early and everyone closes up their houses early here. But thanks to the nativity scenes, all the windows are lit up and everyone comes out and comes over.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROSSTALK)

BEARDSLEY: Like the Kida family - mother, son and his wife, who've traveled 30 miles from the town of Avallon.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: It's like a treasure hunt, they say. And it reminds of us our youth. We may go home as poor as we came, but we will have filled our eyes to the brim.

From life-size to miniscule, the nativity scenes are astoundingly creative and different. There is one made from Playmobil characters, another sculpted only from the wire and metallic wrapping of champagne corks, and still another made from computer parts.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELLS)

BEARDSLEY: In 719, a Benedictine abbey was established in Flavigny and monks are still a regular fixture in village life.

BRIGAND: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Nativity scene contest founder Brigand says you can tell the difference between the religious and not religious villagers, according to whether they put Jesus in the manger before Christmas or on Christmas. But everyone got it wrong by putting out the Wise Men too early, he says, laughing.

(LAUGHTER)

BEARDSLEY: Well, it's just great to walk around this little medieval village that's usually pretty quiet this time of year. But it's just so lively tonight, dozens and dozens if not hundreds of people roaming the streets and looking at all the little beautiful nativity scenes.

SARAH PAGE: Ah, this is the one the monks did. Ah, oui, there's no Jesus in this one. That's for sure, yeah.

BEARDSLEY: Sarah Page, originally from Vermont, has had a house in Flavigny since 1970. Her nativity scene is a photo of the village. She's spliced in pictures of her family and called it a Noel Particulier, which she explains is a Christmas you don't really know what to do with.

There's my ex-husband on the side and he died in April. And so, to me, it was not possible to have a family without him. But he's there as a spirit. You can see through him. And that's his dog and my son. And then that's my ex-husband's last wife. I didn't know whether she wanted to be with us at Christmas or not, so she's sort of looking into space, and then my daughter and her husband and their baby, who is Jesus.

Bonjour, Monsieur.

JEAN LUC PETIT: Bonjour, Madam.

BEARDSLEY: The next window features a nativity scene crafted from iron by the village blacksmith, Jean Luc Petit.

PETIT: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: I did this by hand with scrap pieces of iron, he says.

Petit says it took him a month to build it, and he's not putting out his iron baby Jesus till Christmas Day.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Flavigny, France. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.