View from the Pew
Some people see him lily white.
Some people see him bronzed and brown.
Some people see him almond eyed.
Some people see him dark as they.
Those lyrics from a familiar Christmas song put the Baby Jesus' face in perspective in a way that really vibrates in multiethnic Hawaii.
For many Christian families, a visit to a Nativity scene brings to life the Gospel story of the birth of the Christ Child in Bethlehem. The scenes are not just in churches, but can be found at a major Oahu mall and on the City Hall lawn.
Tonight, the first of the "live" Nativity scenes being enacted by local residents will open. Thousands of people make the pilgrimage to Central Union Church or Waioli Gardens for the experience of pretending they're standing with the shepherds at the manger.
Many among the hordes that march around the bigger-than-life exhibits of Honolulu City Lights find their way to the little cluster of private displays in the shadow of Honolulu Hale. There's a manger scene with a history there, erected this year by Healthy Hawaii Coalition. Honestly, it is at the tacky and tattered end of the scale of Nativity art, hollow plastic figurines that are duplicated on numerous lawns and rooftops. But this scene has been displayed since 1992 when a church group persuaded former Mayor Frank Fasi that his new Christmas lights show should include the real story among the Santa, elves and snow-people. A challenge over religion on government property was resolved when the city set up a lottery for nonprofit groups to bid for spaces in the lights show.
"It just seemed to be wrong to be celebrating somebody's birthday and not have him represented," said Mike Gabbard, Healthy Hawaii spokesman. He borrowed the set, erected annually by Wahiawa Door of Faith Church, which missed the lottery this year. "We get calls, very positive, saying thank you," Gabbard said.
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Nativity scene of the Joy of Christ Lutheran Church follows the tradition of depicting the Advent season, with pieces of the display gradually uniting on Christmas Eve. The display is pictured as it will be on Jan. 6, with the arrival of the three wise men as the final installment of the Epiphany to the story. Pictured singing are choir members Julie Humm, Ken Zeri, Denise Schiemer, Monnette Forte, Dick Boddy, Mary Ohta, Barbara Boddy and Debbiane Wothke.
Another public Nativity scene that has been around for years is at Kahala Mall. Mall manager Ron Yoda does not know its origins, but said it has been displayed for at least 20 years. At a time when some Christian groups have gone apoplectic about Christmas being a forbidden word in the commercial world, the East Honolulu mall continues its tradition. Sidelined from its days at the mall entrance, where smokers and weary shoppers sat in for the shepherds, the life-size Nativity scene now draws an occasional visitor outside the entrance near Macy's.
Manger scenes are not up yet in Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran and other denominations that observe Advent, the season of anticipation leading to Christmas, which starts Dec. 25. Joy of Christ Lutheran Church is using its new, classic ceramic Nativity set to heighten the expectation. The stable stands empty while the characters are proceeding from a distance. The figures of Mary and Joseph, shepherds, angels and three kings are moved closer as the great date draws near.
Churchgoers in dozens of congregations will pose the family for a portrait at the Bethlehem scene when it is complete.
The birth of Christ has been illustrated by artists down through the centuries. Some Europeans did just what the song suggests, visualizing a blond, blue-eyed cast of characters, never mind that the story unfolded in the Middle East. And so did artists in Asia, Africa and the Americas put their own ethnic features on the Holy Family of Bethlehem.
The U.S. Postal Service offers a Christmas stamp with a dark-visaged Madonna and Child, done by 15th-century Italian artist Lorenzo Monaco, whose original work hangs in the National Gallery of Art. The visions of sculptors and stained-glass artists in island churches might have Asian and Polynesian faces at Bethlehem.
Manger scenes are on sale, ranging from elegant to cute, cheap to very pricey, a clue to the popularity of this old-fashioned visual art that was originated by a 13th-century monk, Francis of Assisi.
However beautiful the available art might be, there is no question of replacing the modest assembly of chipped plaster figures in a cardboard manger that lives beneath my tree. It has held that place for uncounted Christmases, back to my parents' days on earth. A child dear to me decided to soften Baby Jesus' resting place on a scratchy hay rack by inserting a folded tissue as a blanket. I confess to keeping that tradition in her absence.
'Tis the season for celebration
Special musical and dramatic productions will celebrate Christmas in the next week. They are free and open to the public.
» A Kaneohe concert at 7:30 p.m. today will feature the Hawaii String Orchestra, Hawaii Ecumenical Chorale and A Taste of Brass ensemble performing Christmas favorites including the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's "Messiah." The program at Calvary Episcopal Church, 45-435 Aumoku St., is free.
» The Salvation Army's annual "Live Nativity" re- enactment of the first Christmas will open Wednesday and continue through Saturday night at Waioli Gardens, 2950 Manoa Road. The staged performance lasts 20 minutes and will be repeated every half-hour from 7 to 10 p.m. The program is performed to a taped narration by actors Sidney Poitier and Brooke Shields, with Christmas music accompaniment.
» The "Gift of Bethlehem" story will be told in scenes with live actors and animals from 6 to 9 p.m. today at Central Union Church, 1660 S. Beretania St. To drive through, enter from Beretania Street.
» Kawaiaha'o Church will present "Joy, a Yuletide Musical Gift to the Community" at 7 p.m. today at 957 Punchbowl St. Recording artists Mark and Diane Yasuhara and jazz singer Starr Williams will join the church musicians and Hawaii Youth Opera Chorus.
» Christmas concerts in Makiki at 7 p.m. today and tomorrow will feature the 100-voice Concert Choir and Concert Orchestra of the Honolulu Hawaii Stake, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The free concerts are at the Honolulu Tabernacle, 1560 S. Beretania St.