About 35 years ago, my sister gave us newlyweds a nativity set, after several attempts to procure or even make one. She got it at Bronners, a big Christmas-themed store in Michigan. Trying to follow our Dad's tradition of adding a new piece every year, she also acquired two angels from another relatively unknown manufacturer, then when those became unavailable, she added a third angel, a donkey, a camel, and two sheep from a third source.
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Recently Shelia thought it would be nice if each of our three daughters had "the set" they had grown up with. So a friend helped me track down the same original set, and we stumbled across two of the angels at a thrift shop. Shelia also found a set of white ceramic figurines very similar to our set, and had the idea that we could paint them to look like the others. I'm good, but not THAT good.
So I went on a quest to find a third set, which eventually I did. A big part of the problem tracking them down was that the original set has no name brand on the bottom, only a little sticker that says "Korea." I discovered several partial sets on eBay labeled as other things, most commonly "Josef," but also as "Heavenly Blessings," an Avon line. It's not hard to see why some folks confused them with the "Josef" set, a semi-name-brand Japanese make - Several of the figures have similar postures and colors, and one king even has the same coif. In other words, it's a knockoff of the Josef set with less detail to make them less fragile. I'd feel worse about that, but one of the Josef pieces is essentially a Hummel in a long cloak.
After ordering multiple partial sets, we were able to piece together three complete sets of the original seven figures, plus a few more angels and things. The whole "first set," shown above, went to the oldest daughter. The other angels and a donkey we found were divided among the other two, with a promise to keep our eyes out for more. (In fact, I've tracked most of them down, but don't tell our girls).
The camel, donkey, and sheep shown in the photo above turned out to be Avon, from their "Heavenly Blessing" collection, so they're easy to track down. The two musical angels were a little tougher. Their bottoms say "Creative Art Fl Inc." Turns out that's short for "Creative Arts Flowers, Inc," And they were originally part of a whole nativity line. But even more research turned up a "knock off" of those. Apparently a Malaysian company bought or copied the molds and has re-released them as part of the Lefton "Christopher Collection." The only difference is less imaginative colors and tacky gold hoops glued on their heads to represent halos. We haven't picked any up yet, but it's nice to see that there's a backup if we can't come up with more of the Creative Art Flowers versions.
How did the kids like their presents? Here's a facebook post from our middle daughter:
The most emotional gift of Christmas: Mom and Dad gave each of us a set of our favorite family nativity. The moment we opened our boxes, we instantly recognized the shapes of the figures wrapped in tissue paper and bubble wrap. I didn't look around, but I don't think I was the only one who started to cry immediately. The most treasured part of decorating for Christmas as children and as young adults was carefully unwrapping the pieces from their box (marked "Handle with LOVE") and setting up the "big" nativity, then thoughtfully rearranging it during the weeks leading up to Christmas. Other Christmas decorations were and are subject to whimsical mischief, but never this nativity. We are grateful for the heirlooms, but especially for the reminder of what is important at Christmas: faith and family.
More about these sets and tracking them down will hopefully find its way into an article before long.