5 minutes with... Barbara Thomas

PUBLISHED: 13:27 02 December 2015 | UPDATED: 12:15 04 December 2015

The Nativity Crib Festival is a unique Christmas event for all the family

The Nativity Crib Festival is a unique Christmas event for all the family


One of Herts’ quirkiest Christmas events takes place this weekend. We talk to one of the organisers about St Ippolyts Church’s Nativity Crib Festival.

You run the Nativity Crib Festival at St Ippolyts Church, how did it begin?

It started around eight or nine years ago. Our reverend at the time, Ann Pollington, who has only just left the parish, came up with the idea to collect as many Christmas nativity scenes in the church as possible and we all thought ‘Well that sounds different, let’s give it a go’. It sort of snowballed from there – and the organisers have got a tiny bit obsessed with it over the years! Now we lose count of the number of scenes – there’s always well over 100. Some are as small as a 50 pence piece, others are huge.

Where do they come from?

We borrow them from anyone we can persuade. Each of the organisers now has a growing collection which we use, and we have people who donate every year, plus we ask people via the parish magazine. Some of the villagers have got really into it. People pick them up from all over the world while they’re on holiday and bring them to the festival – I have collected ones from Spain and Tanzania. And we have a ‘guess the name of the camel’ competition to win a display – quite often the winning nativity scene will be brought back to be displayed at the following year’s festival.

What’s the most unusual one you’ve displayed?

We’ve had scenes made from all sorts – coal, tin, pipe cleaners, plasticine, newspaper, fabric, glass, plaster of paris, fimo clay, the list goes on. But I think the most bizarre one is made from citrus peel – one of the organisers got it – and my one from Tanzania is made from banana leaves. But the key thing is that every one is special to its owners. We place a note beside every one giving its story – where it came from and why the owner bought or made it, where it’s stored in the house, etc. There’s some lovely stories – for instance we had a beautiful olive wood scene owned by a local farmer, which she has on display in one of her windows, and every year her grandchildren go on a treasure hunt around the house to find the animals for it. Another, made from newspaper, has had some of the pieces nibbled at by mice while it was packed away. The ones with pieces missing are often the most interesting.

What do people think of the festival?

People really seem to love it – we normally organise it for around the beginning of advent and it’s become a bit of a Christmas tradition to start the festive season. The looks on the faces of children as they walk or are carried around the displays is really a delight to see. We’ve started to leave a visitors book for people to write in. Comments from last year included, ‘Wonderful – beyond words,’ ‘Beautiful display! Amazing variety of wood, ceramic etc used. We loved it,’ and ‘I come every year – always a joy and a lovely start to Christmas.’

What are the plans for this year?

Well, we never know what might turn up. We’re hoping it will be bigger than ever – there’s definitely some new ones, including one I’ve made using a peg dolls craft kit. And as usual there will be tea and some lovely homemade cakes.

The Nativity Crib Festival takes place on December 5-6 from 11am-5pm at St Ippolyts Church, near Hitchin. Entry is £2 for adults and free for children. For more information visit stippolytschurch.org.uk

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