If you’ve driven by the crèche in Malibu this year, you probably noticed it looks a little different. This is the 57th year the tableau of the birth of Jesus has been set up at the corner of Webb Way and Pacific Coast Highway. But if you look closely, you’ll notice there are no figures inside the manager to represent Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. All the hand-carved statues are gone, replaced by a backdrop of a nativity scene.
Out of an abundance of caution, this year the Malibu folks behind the crèche—Malibu’s Keep Christ in Christmas (KCIC)—decided against displaying the delicate and valuable figures. In late May, during a period of civil unrest, the statue of Father Junipero Serra was vandalized at Serra Retreat. Father Serra—the founder of nine missionaries in California during the 18th century and now a Catholic saint—proselytized Roman Catholicism. He is a target now, accused by many of decimating Native American culture and heritage with the use of forced labor and sometimes harsh corporal punishment.
The president of Keep Christ in Christmas, Mary Motley, told The Malibu Times, “We decided we would not expose our statues now. We’re leaning on the cautious side.” The 15 figures usually displayed are valuable and delicate. All were carved in Italy from a single block of wood. They were recently restored and, when not on display during the Advent and Christmas seasons, meticulously boxed away. One figured is still undergoing repairs.
“We have an angel that’s not completed. We fixed her and she broke again—cracked,” Motley said.
KCIC had a dilemma in bringing the crèche to life without its beloved figures. The organization wanted to keep its Malibu tradition, so a backdrop depicting the nativity was found on Ebay. It was delivered at the 11th hour, arriving two weeks late—just 24 hours before the crèche went up.
“It came on God’s time,” Motley stated. She admitted the blown-up photo is overexposed, adding, “you have a hard time seeing baby Jesus,” so a volunteer painter added more details.
KCIC started with five local churches participating and rotating hosting duties. Our Lady of Malibu (Roman Catholic), St. Aidan’s (Episcopal), Malibu Methodist and Malibu Presbyterian (now Malibu Pacific) still participate. But this year’s COVID-19 prohibitions preclude any public gatherings. Typically, each church hosts an Advent Sunday gathering at the crèche for carol singing, prayer and refreshments, marking the four Sundays leading up to Christmas Eve. Tradition always had the last carol, “Joy to the World,” sung by participants facing away from the nativity scene and toward traffic on PCH.
“Because of COVID and the state law, we are not allowed to gather, but the rule around that is it’s open to the public. We cannot organize a church to come and sing,” Motley said, adding if anyone came to visit she encouraged social distancing. Those who do visit will hear music playing. Lights are on from 4:30 p.m. until 6:30 a.m. daily.
“Faithful people have always participated,” Motley said. Volunteers keep the crèche continuing. For nearly 50 years, Malibu Feed Bin has donated hay bales for public seating and for inside the crèche. There’s a lot of upkeep, too. A new tile roof was recently installed.
“I don’t think people realize it’s really expensive to bring that crèche out,” Motley said. “By the time you pay for insurance, which doesn’t cover the statues, and city permits and radio map, it’s over $1,000. We’re going to continue the tradition as long as the City of Malibu will let us.”
Donations to the crèche can be sent to KCIC, P.O. Box 833, Malibu 90265