Waltham parish opens Nativity contest to all

BRAINTREE -- Exactly 800 years ago, St. Francis of Assisi is said to have created the first live Nativity scene in history, retelling the story of the birth of Christ in a way that the illiterate population of his time could understand.

"St. Francis wanted people to know that God not only existed, but was made present by becoming flesh like us," said Father Michael Nolan, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Waltham. "The Nativity was a reminder and a visible sign that God was not far away from us, but became close to us by becoming one of us."

Last year, St. Mary's held a contest in which the people of Waltham could create and display their own homemade Nativity scenes. The contest was such a success that the parish is doing it again this year, and everyone in the Archdiocese of Boston is eligible to enter.

"They are like sacramentals, almost," Father Nolan said of Nativity scenes. "They are teaching you about the commandments of God . . . They are teaching us the people who were actually there, and what they did, and how God made this happen."

The contest is also inspired by Pope Francis's 2019 apostolic letter "Admirabile Signum," in which he encourages Catholics to continue the tradition of making and displaying Nativity scenes.

"It's short but it's very beautiful," Father Nolan said of the letter. "It's one of his best works."

Throughout history, Catholics have created Nativity scenes out of whatever materials were available to them, from precious jewels to bundles of sticks. Father Nolan wants to celebrate the diversity and universality of the Church by holding a contest where Nativity scenes of all sizes, styles, and materials are eligible.

"We see the birth of Jesus reflected through the particular cultures all over the world," he said.

Anyone, regardless of religious belief, who resides within the Archdiocese of Boston can create and enter a Nativity scene. Entries must be delivered to St. Mary's, 133 School Street, Waltham, by the day after Thanksgiving, Friday, Nov. 24. Entrants should call or email the parish in advance to make sure that someone will be there to accept their entry.

The Nativity scenes will be put on display at the parish and looked at by a panel of judges over Thanksgiving weekend. If a Nativity scene is outdoors and stationary, and is located within the town of Waltham, the judges will come to it.

Prizes will be awarded in three categories: creativity, craftsmanship, and theological accuracy. First-place winners in each category will receive $250, second-place winners will receive $100, and third-place winners will receive $50.

After judging, the entries will be displayed in Waltham businesses until Jan. 6, Epiphany. After that, they will be returned to their creators.