A sacred tradition, dating back to the 13th century, is to again be embraced in Ballarat during an eclectic showcase opening this weekend.
For the second year running, the Bridge Mall is hosting 'Making a Scene at Christmas', featuring a display of over 500 nativities from more than 60 countries, gathered by three individuals passionate about the subject.
Fiona Tonkin, Andrew Hayes, and Kay Paton have been combining their collections for in excess of ten years with the aim of providing an alternative view to the commercial Christmas.
Ms Tonkin believes people's understanding of the true meaning of the festive season has been eroded, if not lost, as time has past. This revelation originated from a friend's overseas trip.
"A friend of mine was travelling in the US and went into a Christmas shop, three storeys high," Ms Tonkin said.
"In the basement, he found three nativities and that was it. He came back to Australia and said, 'We've forgottten the essence of Christmas. We've got the commercial side right, but we've forgotten what it's really about'.
"He said, 'Do we know anybody who has any nativities? We can put on a display and people might have the chance just to talk about where (Christmas) started, what the essence of it is'."
A theme of the exhibition relates to what the nativity would look like if it happened in different times and places.
"There's a tradition in Spain, when you set up your nativity, of having someone squatting down using the toilet," Ms Tonkin said.
"What it's basically saying is we're all the same in God's eyes. Even the Queen goes to the toilet!"
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There is also a social justice element to the initiative.
One composition is based on the sixth floor of a high-rise block in the Melbourne suburb of Flemington. Shepherds have been replaced by the homeless and the wise men have been replaced by doctors and nurses of nearby hospitals.
Another work features a pregnant Mary painted by widows of drug violence in Columbia, while there is a model created by an Islamic female refugee.
There are offerings from Asia. Cambodian labourers, disabled from both polio and landmines, have created a piece. There is one from Nagasaki, Japan, linked to when the second atomic bomb was dropped by the Americans in August 1945. A Catholic cathedral in the city with 1,500 parishioners was destroyed. Half of the parishioners died in an instant.
There will be something for everyone at the exhibition.
"We've got a section just for kids," Ms Tonkin said.
"They can play with nativity; they can make a nativity.
"Even for teenagers, we have things which will amaze them. They don't often see nativities made of bullet shells.
"Last time we had it, we actually had a family of people from India. They said, 'What's this about? We don't understand.' We talked about it, explained it, and showed them things and they said, 'Oh! That makes sense!'"
For those with a penchant for history, the collection features artifacts dating back to the time of Jesus' birth, including a coin illustrating the renowned astronomical event of the period.
Bridge Mall general manager Germaine Davey is pleased to have 'Making a Scene at Christmas' return.
"We thought it was a really beautiful exhibition," Ms Davey said, reflecting on last year's presentation.
"They're absolutely delighted to be back (in the Bridge Mall)."
The official launch will be at the extended Bridge Mall farmers market this Saturday. Ms Davey is looking forward to people flocking to the area.
"We'd like to have those who are visiting friends and relatives, and tourists, coming to the attraction as well to see our beautiful precinct," Ms Davey said.
"It would be great to support the local businesses. I'm all about community!"
Ms Davey is urging those with an artistic side to peruse the attraction as well. Nativities will consist of those made of bone, bread, wood, car parts, glass, paper, and even potato chip packets.
"This is a thematic interpretation in different artforms," Ms Davey said.
"It's looking at one subject, interpreted by different cultures and different artists in different mediums."
Ms Tonkin is hopeful the time spent surrounded by the images and models will allow for reflection
"(I would like them to) stop and say, 'There is a lot more to Christmas'," Ms Tonkin said.
"It reminds them that we're important, that even in the most challenging of situations, we are survivors."
The exhibition will be in Shop 60 of the Bridge Mall on December 4 - 5 and from December 11 - 24. Opening hours are between 10am - 5pm. Entry is free, although a gold coin donation is invited to assist in covering costs. COVID regulations will apply.
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