By Dave Jolivet
NEW BEDFORD — Perhaps the simplest, most beautiful and meaningful Christmas displays are not loud, busy scenes with secularized Santas and elves and skating penguins. More accurately, it’s the down-home, from-the-heart scenes from childhood; a childhood not tainted by consumerism and expensive gifts. The act of keeping ethnic traditions alive is priceless, and for a Dartmouth man, it’s an act he shares with others each Christmas season.
Frank Camara doesn’t keep his heart-warming Christmas memories and displays to himself, he shares them with anyone who will take the time to visit the Casa da Saudade (the Portuguese library branch of the New Bedford Free Public Library). From now until Jan. 7, 2022, Camara’s display of Christ Child statues will join Robert Medeiros’ charming Azorean Nativity scene that has been at the library since 2004 when Medeiros donated it.
Camara told The Anchor that he is a collector of antique religious art and the Christ Child statues are a large part of that.
“I asked the Casa da Saudade if they would be interested in doing an exhibit of Christ child statues,” Camara told The Anchor. “The statues were used in many Portuguese homes as the main Nativity scene as the Christ Child is the most important part of Christmas. The library said yes so I started displaying the Christ Child statues along with Robert Medeiros’ traditional Azorean Nativity scene called a presepio.”
Not even the pandemic could prevent the public display of the presepio and the statues. “Due to Covid last year it [the scene] was on loan to the UMass CVPA in downtown New Bedford and on display in one of their windows for the community to enjoy,” added Camara.
With a return to some sense of normalcy this Advent and Christmas seasons, more people will be able to view the traditions up close. “This year the library decided the Nativity would be displayed at the main library third floor to give more people a better opportunity for viewing. The Christ Child statues will have a small exhibit at the Casa da Saudade to keep up with the tradition,” said Camara, a parishioner of St. Julie Billiart Parish in Dartmouth, along with his wife and two sons.
Camara said that the presepio and Christ Child statues have also been on display at the Falmouth Museum. “I have also had an exhibit of my Sacred art statues at the New Bedford Free Public Library in downtown New Bedford.” Clearly a man who is proud of faith and his heritage — and not afraid to show it.
The presepio and Christ Child statues will be on display at the Casa da Saudade, 613 Pleasant Street, New Bedford from now until Jan. 7, 2022. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 508-991-6218.