Away in a manger at St Elizabeth’s, Dandenong

Sunday, 11 December 2011

By Edwina Hall
Kairos Catholic JournalNativity-scene_Wilson

The nativity scene that many of you will have placed under your Christmas tree by now reminds us of the birth of Jesus Christ, the true meaning of Christmas.
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Story has it that the origin of the scene lies with St Francis of Assisi, who created one back in 1223 "to represent the birth of that Child in Bethlehem in such a way that with our bodily eyes we may see what he suffered for lack of the necessities of a newborn babe and how he lay in a manger between the ox and ass".

Today at St Elizabeth's Parish in Dandenong, artist Wilson Fernandez continues to create the nativity scene, to capture and explain the true message and meaning of Christmas; a tradition he brought with him from India where he lived as a child.

Wilson's nativity scene, now in its seventh year at St Elizabeth's, has grown each year to keep onlookers constantly interested and aware of the true meaning of Christmas.

"I have been doing this from a very young age, at home," Wilson said. "Parish priest Fr Tad Ziolkowski happened to drop in one day and saw it and said, 'why don't you do something at our church?' That is how it started.

"Back home, it's more of a tradition, every house does it and sometimes there is a competition, so people get into it. I never got to that stage but I used to do it because I loved doing it."

Wilson said the preparation for the nativity scene takes months and that it is a project he is constantly thinking about the whole year round.

What began as a one-metre by two-metre nativity scene is now three metres by five metres.

"I put a lot of work in from August. I buy all the things myself and the parish is very good at supporting me. I buy some of the figurines overseas and people sponsor the figurines or give donations.

"It's been a good effort from the community and parish and that motivates me to continue."

Wilson says his artistic streak and ability to create the nativity scene come from his uncles and forefathers, together with the skills he has learnt in his profession as a mechanical engineer.

"I can see designs in my mind before I create them," Wilson said. "I try to make (the nativity scene) as realistic as possible. I read a lot of books and look at historical pictures to give me ideas. I haven't been to Bethlehem or Nazareth but looking at the landscape and the way things looked in those days gave me different concepts and ideas.

"I use natural materials like sandstone, bricks, twigs and branches and I also grow my own grass. Because I am creating a landscape, the landscape needs to be proportionate to the size of the figurines.

"I try to change the scene each year. For the last two years I have had water features. This year I will add another dimension to the nativity scene."

Wilson said his inspiration for this project became stronger after having two children of his own, Clara and Fiona, as it was an easy way to explain the Christmas message to them.

"My children and wife Rita help me to build the crib," Wilson said. "The pictures speak a lot. It's like a storytelling process, each week you can see the images or figurines moving.

"I have visited different places and I have seen different commercialised ways of doing it but I try to apply a more traditional and spiritual perspective.

"The world is moving at such a fast pace that people don't have time for prayers or attending Mass or church, but I lay that foundation for my children.

"There are times these days when people get lost, they don't understand, they are confused in the current world. Because of the times this is one way of giving the message of Christmas.

"I will continue to do this for as long as I am fit to and I encourage all people to come and have a look at the nativity scene at St Elizabeth's."

The Nativity Scene can be viewed at St Elizabeth's Parish, 107 Bakers Road, Dandenong North, from 17 December 2011 until 14 January 2012.

See What's On for details.

For further information contact Wilson Fernandez on 0428 927 110.