A St. Mark Parish student looks at some of the Nativities that were created through faith formation classes. (Submitted photos)

A stable and a manger. These simple symbols represent the humble birth of Jesus and are at the heart of Nativity scenes seen around the world at Christmas.

Last month, faith formation students at St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Kenosha displayed their handmade Nativity scenes on tables in the parish lobby from Dec. 11 through Epiphany on Jan. 8. Students from kindergarten through seniors in high school beamed with pride as they showed off their creations — all 110 of them.

The idea for the project was the collaborative effort of Gema Soria-Arcos, parish secretary and faith formation director, and fellow catechists.

“The idea resulted from our summer catechists meeting, during which we discussed projects for the year. We saw the great need to teach our children the beauty of a Nativity setting, and what Christmas is all about,” Soria-Arcos said. “We wanted to share with our parish families our story of Christmas through the children’s eyes.”

Soria-Arcos believes it is best to have parents working with their children to better grasp the concepts of the faith, so she involves parents in faith formation classes. The Nativity scenes were no different.

“Every year, we have projects that involve faith-formation families,” Soria-Arcos said. “This year, we wanted the children to recall their very own family tradition; we have families from all over Mexico, Colombia, Belize, Guatemala, Peru, Venezuela and Puerto Rico. The project was a way to get the entire family involved and to recenter their Christmas idea of the birth of Jesus — to complete the beautiful Christmas decoration and put the children’s touch to this creation was central.”

Requirements for the project included children working with their parents as a family and representing their own family in the scene.  There were no limits on the supplies students could use to create their scenes. Students and families used a variety of mediums, including corn husks, Play-Doh, foam, drawings, toilet paper rolls, tin, straws, Styrofoam and Legos.

The students were excited to create the project once Soria-Arcos and the catechists explained the meaning of the Nativity’s primary characters and that they would create it based on their understanding and point of view.

“The Confirmation group coordinator was (trying to find) a way to get the teenage group enthusiastic to build the Nativity set,” Soria-Arcos said. “She brought a Nativity from home that her husband and one of her daughters made out of cardboard and clay. They weren’t the best figurines but it was their work of art, and the importance of them building the Nativity was the time they spend together as the holy family they are, and the memories they were building with their family.”

Soria-Arcos said families created the Nativity scenes together and not as individual students.

“All (the parents) were very proud of their faith being transmitted to their children and grasped a better understanding that Jesus is the center of this sacred time,” she said.

Parishioners enjoyed seeing all the Nativities and appreciated that these were family projects that seemed to bring joy and draw families together.

“Every Nativity was so unique, a fascinating mixture of art, all from their hearts, with simple elements or pieces very important to them, like a baby Jesus that belonged to their families throughout generations,” Soria-Arcos said. “We plan to do this again, as we are so blessed to have so many people with amazing talents (and) great stories to share through their pieces of art, and the thirst of learning more about their faith with the guidance of caring catechists.”