A Northern Nativity

William Kurelek, the celebrated Canadian painter, introduces this book with these words,

    Times were hard that Christmas during the Depression of the 1930’s when William was twelve years old.

    Everywhere across the country men traveled in search of work. They begged food, slept wherever they found shelter, rode boxcars – led on always by the hope that in the next town they would find a job and money to send to wives and children back home. Some families had lost their homes and they traveled in broken-down cars, trusting to the kindness of strangers to keep going …

Kurelek’s book features a series of illustrations of the birth narrative contextualized and set in the poorest shelters in Canada during the depression. Here the family has found shelter in an old hut the fishermen use to store fish in on the Atlantic coast. Kurelek writes,

    Boatloads of fishermen in black rubber nor’westers are arriving. Each boat docks at the foot of a flimsy-looking ladder which the men use to scale the rock. All of them carry small offerings of fish – the one gift they are able to bring to Mary and her Child. As they kneel in adoration, Mary holds up the Child for them to see.

    How had they heard of the Child’s presence on their shores, William wondered. Had the angels announced it to them as to the shepherds? Or was it something from the heart? Or a belief in miracles? A deep-sea fisherman faces death each time he goes out to sea – perhaps this is why he is more in tune than others with the Source of life.

This book is exceptional as a contextualization of the Christmas narrative. For me it has both a universal message and a personal landscape. Published in 1976, it is timeless in nature.

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