Text and photos by Gregory A. Shemitz

Tabletop Christmas crèches designed and created by families at St. Hugh of Lincoln Church, Huntington Station, were on display at the parish this weekend, Dec. 16-17, capping an Advent activity developed to encourage parishioners to remain focused on the religious significance of the holiday season: the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

Father Daniel Rivera, St. Hugh associate pastor, came up with the idea of holding a contest for parish families that would test their creativity while also giving family members an opportunity to spend time together on a project aimed at enhancing their understanding and appreciation of Christmas.

Nineteen families responded to the parish’s invitation to participate in the contest, which was announced on the first Sunday of Advent. Father Rivera also entered the competition, though he was ineligible to win the prize for the best crèche.

Other than being instructed to read the Gospel accounts of the Nativity, rules for constructing the mangers were informal. “They could do anything that would express their love for Christmas,” said Father Rivera.

Hundreds of parishioners reviewed the crèches after each of the weekend Masses. Everyone was given a ballot and asked to cast a vote for their favorite entry. The prize for the top crèche was $300. The winning family, which will be notified at Mass next Sunday, will also have a special dinner prepared by Father Rivera.

In addition to being a “good way to prepare for Christmas,” Father Rivera said the contest presented an opportunity for different parish groups to participate in a single activity.

“It’s important for us to do things as a parish, not only the Latino community or the Anglo community. I thought (the contest) would be of interest to everyone.”

Though the competition is over, Father Rivera will be looking at many more crèches over the next few days. He and Father Robert Smith, the parish pastor, are scheduled to visit more than 50 homes, where they will bless family Nativity sets.