My favorite Christmas story is from Father René Fumeleau, a Catholic priest in Lutselk’e, Northwest Territories (NWT), Canada. [He recounts it in a lovely audio CD of his stories, “They Gave Me a Chance”].
As a young man, Father Fumeleau was sent to a small Dene community in the NWT for his first assignment as priest for a local congregation there. One of the first things he decided he wanted to do was make the church more reflective of local Dene culture.
As part of this exercise he went to visit a local Dene artist. Fumeleau said to the painter,
“I’d like to put a painting of the Nativity Scene into the church; but I’d like the painting to be done with references to Dene culture.”
The painter nodded and so Fumeleau went on: “I was thinking we could paint the Nativity Scene as if it took place up here. Maybe having Joseph and Mary–instead of going into Bethlehem– paint them coming into a Dene village maybe by dog team? And they went from door to door being turned away until they come to the Dene equivalent of the manger, a barn, the building where Jesus is born. What do you think?”
The painter nodded noncommittally.
So Fumeleau said, “Well it’s summer time now, it’s a long ways to go before Christmas. Think about it and I’ll come back and check out on you later.”
A few months later, in the autumn, Fumeleau went back to visit the painter.
“How’s the Nativity Scene going? Have you painted it?” The painter shook his head, and said, “No.”
Fumeleau said, “Well there’s still some time. I’ll check back later.”
A few weeks before Christmas, he visited the painter again.
He asked, “How’s it going? Have you made any progress in painting the Dene Nativity Scene?” The painter shook his head, and said, “No.”
Fumeleau said, “You’re not going to paint one are you?” The painter said, “No.” Fumeleau sighed and asked, “Why not?” And the Dene painter answered, “Because I can’t paint it the way you ask Father. If Joseph and Mary came to a Dene village, the first door they knocked on would take them in.”