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Deerfield Christmas includes living manger scene

  • submitted image<br/>The living manger in Deerfield has become a holiday tradition.

    submitted image
    The living manger in Deerfield has become a holiday tradition.

  • submitted image<br/>The living manger in Deerfield has become a holiday tradition.

DEERFIELD — In a stable at the Deerfield Inn tonight, three wise men, a herd of calves and pigs and the baby Jesus will meet passersby and churchgoers at the Brick Church.

For the first time in two years since Hurricane Irene flooded the historic inn on Old Main Street, the living manger scene returns to the Deerfield Inn.

The living manger scene will take place after the 4:30 p.m. service at the First Church of Deerfield, commonly known as the Brick Church, behind the inn. For the last two years, the manger was held at the Hall Tavern across the street from the Brick Church. The Christmas Eve tradition is organized by the Deerfield Inn innkeepers Jane Howard and Karl Sabo, the Deerfield Academy theater department and Tim Neumann, the executive director of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association.

The inn will also be collecting donations for the Franklin County Emergency Shelter in Greenfield in the terrace, where cookies and mulled cider from Clarkdale Fruit Farms will be served after the manger scene.

Since 1976, generations of Deerfield families have volunteered to participate in the living manger, Neumann said.

In addition, Paul Yager from the Deerfield Academy theater department and his students have hung theater lights before going on Christmas break to create a warm glow in the stable, Neumann said.

The manger scene at the Deerfield Inn has a twist from the traditional popular image from medieval or Renaissance paintings that portray the Holy Family, angels and shepherds as people from the 1200s or the 1400s, Neumann said. Instead, in Deerfield, the live scene is depicted the way children of the 1680s would have imagined the story — in an isolated, agrarian New England Puritan outpost. Shepherds are farmers. Wise men and women are doctors, ministers and midwives.

“They did not have the stained glass windows or statues in their meetinghouses like European churches,” Neumann said. “They didn’t even have pictures in their Bibles to color their interpretation of the brief descriptions of the nativity recorded there. These early American children’s vision of what we call Christmas would have reflected their own day-to-day life.”

The manger scene grew from a wish of some community members to emphasize the biblical meaning of Christmas, Neumann said.

This year, the Holy Family is portrayed by Karl Koeningsbauer, an Eaglebrook School teacher, his wife, Ruth and their new infant son, Oliver, of Deerfield. Neumann will play the minister.

From the start, veterinarian Robert Schmitt has volunteered to bring animals and other participants for the living manger. He appears in the scene as a shepherd. This year, his daughter Kirsta Davey will appear as the wise woman/ midwife character.

“I try to bring some spirit to the town,” Schmitt said. “It’s nice to get everyone together. It’s a feeling of satisfaction. We’ve had a lot of different people and animals.”

Over the years, Schmitt’s children and now grandchildren have volunteered to stand in one of the nine roles.

Schmitt, who owns the South Deerfield Veterinary Clinic, also arranges for a wide range of animals for the scene, including calves, pigs, donkeys, camels and chickens. Many animals come from local farms. The Yazwinski Farm provides the calves. And Tregellys Fiber Farm of Hawley provides the camels.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at: kmckiernan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.

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