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Oh Little Town of Bethlehem

Each year my Nativity scene comes out of the attic and sits on a shelf for a couple of weeks. Every year it makes me laugh. Every time I look at it, it makes me smile.

The Nativity scene. Lovingly hand carved in random bits of old wood. I laugh because it’s so bloody terrible. Smile because I know how easily I was conned.

I bought it in Bethlehem in 1997 from a little shop full of wonderful nativity scenes, beautifully hand carved from olive wood. After admiring the craftsmanship, the intricacies and detail of some of faces and figures on display I chose a small set which I could carry home easily in my suitcase. The wizened shopkeeper was very helpful and kind, he told me in broken English how he had carved these sets and what they were made from.

They weren’t cheap, but I knew I wouldn’t be coming to Bethlehem again any time soon. I think he knew this.

He said he would get the same set for me as the one on display already wrapped from the back of the shop. He had seen we were on a coach excursion and this would save us time. An old trick, probably the oldest in the book, but it didn’t cross my mind that I would not be receiving the same product as the display versions. This after all was Bethlehem.

Back on the bus to Jerusalem it was quickly obvious what had just happened. Despite being ripped off it’s never really bothered me, as trying to work out who was meant to be who the first time was hilarious and it has given me more than its price in amusement every year since. The shopkeeper had a living to make and I accepted my position in the naive tourist food chain without resentment. We live and learn.

As you can see, this carving brings to life the beauty and wonder of the nativity scene; the serenity and love on the face of Mary at the wonder of her miracle child is sublime, the work of a true artist.

The timeless serenity of the Virgin Mary. Or maybe it’s Joseph?

The Majesty of Kings.

The baby Jesus. At least there’s a strong clue to this one