Christmas season starts with a manger in Monadnock region
The Christ Child in the McDonald family Nativity in Dublin, which disappeared for a few weeks two years ago, lies safely in its cradle this Christmas season. (MEGHAN PIERCE/Union Leader Correspondent)
For many, the holiday season starts with a shopping rush after Thanksgiving. But for two Monadnock region families Christmastime begins in the manger.
For the past 50 years, a Dublin family has been celebrating the season with a large-scale crèche on Route 101.
Lucy McDonald of Dublin said the nativity display was her father's dream. Her father, Alfred Pellerin, would talk about it to his children, how he would set it up on their front lawn and light it up at night for all to see, McDonald said.
"It was an idea he always had and it was never realized until we were all grown up. We would always listen to his stories about it when we were little kids," she said.
Her mother, Cecile Pellerin, had the idea to pipe music to the manger.
The original pieces, Mary, Joseph, and the Christ Child have had to be replaced over the years. The heat of the garage over the summer and the bitter cold during the winter take their toll. The manger, which was built out of an old wagon with metal wheels, remains intact, though, she said.
About 15 years ago when her father passed away and her mother later went into a nursing home, many in the community expressed their concern for their family tradition, McDonald said.
McDonald and her husband, Brian, decided to continue the tradition, but moved it across the street to their lawn.
It's not quite the same, though, she said. Her parents lawn was lower and flatter and motorists on Route 101 could easily park to walk up and get a better look.
McDonald fondly remembers how her father would sit in a rocking chair in his kitchen watching families walk up, visit and take pictures at the nativity, she said.
"He didn't know people would stop. That really was a big thing for him and he just really loved seeing little children tottering up to see it," she said.
The McDonald's lawn and driveway is steep, but motorists can still see the manger from the road. If they slow down and roll down their windows, they can hear the Christmas music, McDonald said.
Over the years, the crèche has grown as a family tradition as well as a community tradition, McDonald said.
The first Christmas Eve after her father died, a local family stopped at their home with Christmas treats and a card thanking them for the display. The Harrisville family was on their way to Christmas Eve services and wanted to thank the McDonalds for keeping Christ in Christmas, McDonald said.
"We were totally overwhelmed. What a lovely family. Just out of the blue, people you don't even know," she said.
The family now returns every Christmas Eve with a handmade card, home-baked goodies and stays for a visit, she said.
Along with the many pleasant memories the nativity has brought the family, there was also an upsetting one two years ago.
In 2010, the Christ Child was taken from the crib.
McDonald remembers that holiday season as a "rollercoaster" of emotions. While it was upsetting that someone would do that, the community responded with an incredible outpouring of sympathy and support, she said.
One man drove a long distance to bring the family a stand-in Christ Child for the manager.
"There are so many good people, it doesn't matter if somebody it not so nice or smart or whatever the case is," McDonald said.
But then just before Christmas, the Christ Child was returned anonymously with a note of apology.
"To bring it back I think that was very brave. It's one thing to take it," she said. "It was just one of life's bumps in the road. But it really did turn out well because he came back before Christmas, which is when the Christ Child is supposed to be in the crib anyway."
Over the years the family has created many traditions around the crèche.
The weekend after Thanksgiving, all of the McDonald children and grandchildren gather to put up the nativity. The youngest member of the family places the Christ Child in the manger. Lucy and Brian McDonald hang a small wreath above the manager, which was the tradition of her parents.
"It's like the icing on the cake," McDonald said. "When we get done hanging that little wreath I feel like, 'OK dad, give me the thumbs ups.'"
Then the whole family goes inside for a big pasta meal.
Though the family crèche has become part of the greater community's holiday season, it is also exactly what her father wanted it to be - a way for his family to start the Christmas season off right.
"It's just a fun day and occasion to start the season off," she said. "That's really what it is all about - making it clear we know what Christmas is all about and getting together as family."
Then the holiday shopping can begin.
"We love Santa Claus, too," McDonald said laughing.
In the neighboring town of Peterborough just off Route 101 on Grove Street, the Cutter family has been setting out their large-scale crèche for about 30 years.
"We get a lot of comments from people that say they just love seeing the crèche go up," said Chris Cutter. "I start with Baby Jesus as the center piece and work everything around it."
The tradition was started by Cutter and his two sisters when they bought the crèche for their parents 30 years ago.
Six years ago when his parents decided to retire and move to Goshen, Cutter bought his parents' home and moved in with his wife Lisa and their children.
The heavy concrete figures, which weighed from 50 to 100 pounds, stayed in Peterborough.
"It stayed in the barn. It didn't go with them to Goshen," Cutter said.
There have been many years when Cutter, who sets up the display himself, has wanted to skip a year, but if he doesn't get it out Thanksgiving weekend people in the community start asking the family about it, especially Lisa Cutter, since she works at the town library.
"Why hasn't it gone up? I haven't seen it go up," people ask her.
"I have my moments. I don't mind setting it up. It's tearing it down after Christmas because it snowy and cold. They're concrete; they are heavy, especially when you're taking them down from the barn."
The Cutter crèche has become part of Christmastime in Peterborough, but it's also a family tradition Cutter carries on.
"I don't enjoy doing it physically, but once it's up it's satisfying," he said.
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