As we were strolling through the narrow ‘ruelles’, alleys, of old town Vence, I noticed a display in a shop window, which would’ve delighted many Ticos. One of the great pleasures of Christmas time for Costa Ricans is lovingly arranged crèche scenes. I’ve noticed and admired many amazing displays in front of private homes, in town squares and parks, in supermarkets, I even saw one on the grounds of the MOPT, the ministerial department of transportation, where one gets a driver’s license, as you can read here in a post from December of 2011. The crèches often include characters and features, like a river, waterfall or specific building, of the neighborhood or region in which it is displayed. Of course, up to Christmas Day, there’s no baby figurine, as everyone eagerly awaits Jesus’ birth.
This Provençal crèche scene I saw in the shop window, would’ve been a strong contender in the crèche competitions in Costa Rica. And yes, Ticos do have competitions for best crèches!
The unfortunate glare and reflection of the window glass notwithstanding, this scene brings to life a section of a typical Provençal mountain village. The drawing on the backdrop shows a large ‘mas’ or farmhouse with barns and other outbuildings. Evergreens and olive trees, vineyards, streams, and rocky outcroppings are sheltered in the shadow of Mount Ventoux, the highest mountain in Provence. In the foreground, the figurines and model structures enact a provençal tableau of village life. In the right corner you see a drystone build ‘cabane’, the rough shepherd’s shelter, who is grazing his sheep right in front of it. Behind the shepherd is a quaint watermill and across the river that drives the wheel, you can observe a group of villagers dancing, while an umbrella-toting nun converses with the village priest, who holds a goose by its neck.
More structures significant to village life are shown in the center of the tableau. A windmill to produce the all-important flour towers over the fountain, central to every village. The town crier with his drum and parchment proudly displays a ‘tricolor’ batch on his hat.
Finally, over to the left, we find the main characters of every crèche everywhere, the Holy Family and their entourage. They’re housed in a typical, stone ‘hangar’, an open-sided barn, which leans a bit tiredly into a large rock cave. It is interesting, though, that the Holy Family and the Wise Men aren’t represented in the same local style as everyone else. These figurines, like most crèche figures, are dressed in some generic Middle Eastern style.
When you look closely, you notice that the villagers are more given to chatting among themselves, than adoring the Child. Hmm …