The Knights of Columbus has long championed the “Keep Christ in Christmas” message to remind the public that the “holiday season” is really about the birth of the Savior. Each year, the more than 14,000 local K of C councils promote the message with car magnets, yard signs, television ads and radio spots.
Back in 2010, I wanted to create a 30-second broadcast commercial with this message, but we had no production budget. I found a beautiful mosaic image from the Knights of Columbus Incarnation Dome at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. The year before, I used that image to create a billboard we placed alongside Interstate 94 in Racine County, Wisconsin.
For the TV spot, we planned to use that still image with a pan-and-zoom “Ken Burns effect,” but I still needed voice talent and music. I looked no further than my then 11-year-old daughter, Ruby. She only needed a couple of takes to nail the script voiceover. My other daughter, Samantha, 14, took to her keyboard and recorded a section of “Greensleeves.” That is the tune used for the hymn What Child Is This? Once I put it all together, we had a very nice broadcast commercial, quite beautiful in its simplicity. The finished spot ran hundreds of times on a wide variety of cable television networks throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. You can watch the video in the player below.
In the winter of 1966 or 1967, a young father designed and hand-crafted an outdoor nativity scene to decorate the family home in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. David D. Hanneman (1933-2007) painted the set freehand and put it on display just under the garage window of his home on Wisconsin Avenue. The nativity scene was a fixture at the home in those early years, but eventually was put in storage and forgotten.
Forty years later, after David Hanneman died, the badly weathered Nativity figures were rescued from a trash can in the garage. Over the next 18 months they were restored to almost original condition and put on display in the Village of Mount Pleasant.
The original backers and braces were removed from the cutout figures of St. Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus. New 1-inch-thick plywood backers were crafted with a jigsaw, then glued to the figures and anchored with wood screws. Heavy L-shape stabilizing braces were screwed into the backers to give the figures sufficient weight to withstand winter winds.
Samantha J. Hanneman, David Hanneman’s granddaughter, did most of the paint restoration work. With a special set of art brushes, she applied metallic gold and flat black paint to maintain the original look. Touch up paint was applied sparingly to the faces and hands of the figures to keep the hand-drawn details.
The newly restored Nativity scene was put on display at the Hanneman home in Racine County in December 2008, making the old tradition new again for another generation. The crèche was displayed for several years, but had to again be put in storage when we lost our home. Now the figures again wait patiently to have a new home where their warm glow will fill the Christmas night.
St. Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first Nativity crib or crèche on Christmas Eve 1223 in Greccio, Italy. St. Francis was eager to make the birth of Christ something tangible for the faithful. He had a manger built, brought animals to be part of the set, and had Holy Mass said before this representation of the birth of Christ. After the preparations were finished, St. Francis and some of his followers went to the crèche for the Mass. After a short prayer by Francis, a vision of the Christ child appeared on the hay.The miracle stirred the animals and greatly moved the faithful who witnessed it.