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Celebrating 50 years of a Dublin family Christmas tradition

  • Brian McDonald, Lucy McDonald, Frank Roggenkamp, Jen Roggenkamp, Lucy Briggs, 16-month-old Henry McDonald, Megan Briggs, Andy Briggs, Eric Briggs, Penny Briggs, Mark Briggs, Melanie McDonald and Chris McDonald celebrate the completion of the 50th crèche installation Saturday on Main Street in Dublin.<br/><br/>(Photo courtesy of Chris McDonald)

    Brian McDonald, Lucy McDonald, Frank Roggenkamp, Jen Roggenkamp, Lucy Briggs, 16-month-old Henry McDonald, Megan Briggs, Andy Briggs, Eric Briggs, Penny Briggs, Mark Briggs, Melanie McDonald and Chris McDonald celebrate the completion of the 50th crèche installation Saturday on Main Street in Dublin.

    (Photo courtesy of Chris McDonald)

  • Alfred Pellerin and his wife, Cecile Pellerin, both of Dublin, began a family tradition 50 years ago, when Alfred built a large-scale crèche for his front yard. Today, their children and grandchildren ensure the crèche returns to Main Street each year.<br/><br/>(Photo courtesy of the McDonald family)

    Alfred Pellerin and his wife, Cecile Pellerin, both of Dublin, began a family tradition 50 years ago, when Alfred built a large-scale crèche for his front yard. Today, their children and grandchildren ensure the crèche returns to Main Street each year.

    (Photo courtesy of the McDonald family)

  • Alfred Pellerin's grandchildren gather in front of the family crèche after an installation of it in the 1990s.<br/><br/>(Photo courtesy of the McDonald family)

    Alfred Pellerin's grandchildren gather in front of the family crèche after an installation of it in the 1990s.

    (Photo courtesy of the McDonald family)

  • The McDonald creche is installed for the 50th consecutive year on Main Street in Dublin, marking the start of the Christmas season for many.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    The McDonald creche is installed for the 50th consecutive year on Main Street in Dublin, marking the start of the Christmas season for many.

    (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

  • The McDonald creche is installed for the 50th consecutive year on Main Street in Dublin, marking the start of the Christmas season for many.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    The McDonald creche is installed for the 50th consecutive year on Main Street in Dublin, marking the start of the Christmas season for many.

    (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

  • The McDonald creche is installed for the 50th consecutive year on Main Street in Dublin, marking the start of the Christmas season for many.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    The McDonald creche is installed for the 50th consecutive year on Main Street in Dublin, marking the start of the Christmas season for many.

    (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

  • The McDonald creche is installed for the 50th consecutive year on Main Street in Dublin, marking the start of the Christmas season for many.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    The McDonald creche is installed for the 50th consecutive year on Main Street in Dublin, marking the start of the Christmas season for many.

    (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

  • Brian McDonald, Lucy McDonald, Frank Roggenkamp, Jen Roggenkamp, Lucy Briggs, 16-month-old Henry McDonald, Megan Briggs, Andy Briggs, Eric Briggs, Penny Briggs, Mark Briggs, Melanie McDonald and Chris McDonald celebrate the completion of the 50th crèche installation Saturday on Main Street in Dublin.<br/><br/>(Photo courtesy of Chris McDonald)
  • Alfred Pellerin and his wife, Cecile Pellerin, both of Dublin, began a family tradition 50 years ago, when Alfred built a large-scale crèche for his front yard. Today, their children and grandchildren ensure the crèche returns to Main Street each year.<br/><br/>(Photo courtesy of the McDonald family)
  • Alfred Pellerin's grandchildren gather in front of the family crèche after an installation of it in the 1990s.<br/><br/>(Photo courtesy of the McDonald family)
  • The McDonald creche is installed for the 50th consecutive year on Main Street in Dublin, marking the start of the Christmas season for many.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • The McDonald creche is installed for the 50th consecutive year on Main Street in Dublin, marking the start of the Christmas season for many.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • The McDonald creche is installed for the 50th consecutive year on Main Street in Dublin, marking the start of the Christmas season for many.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • The McDonald creche is installed for the 50th consecutive year on Main Street in Dublin, marking the start of the Christmas season for many.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

DUBLIN — Fifty years ago, Alfred Pellerin of Dublin built a manger out of an old trailer frame and, with wooden logs and statues of saints, shepherds, angels, animals and a Christ Child, made his longtime dream of owning a family nativity set a reality.

“It was always something he wanted to have,” said Lucy McDonald of Dublin, who today carries on her father’s tradition of setting up the nativity scene with her husband, children and grandchildren. “My father would tell the story when my brother, sister and I were young that he was going to do it one day, but it didn’t happen until I had my daughter. She was just walking then.”

The large-scale crèche, or nativity scene, has not only become a part of the McDonald family’s tradition and Christmas observance since Pellerin created it 50 years ago, it is now a recognized and treasured holiday display that residents of Dublin and the surrounding area look forward to seeing each year on Main Street.

“It is not just a tradition, but a tribute to the real meaning of Christmas, as well as a tribute to the heritage of our family,” McDonald said in an interview with the Ledger-Transcript on Wednesday. “That is really what my father intended.”

Withstanding frigid temperatures and snow flurries Saturday morning, McDonald’s son and daughter-in-law, Chris and Melanie McDonald of Jaffrey, with their son Henry, and daughter and son-in-law, Penny and Mark Briggs of Peterborough, with their five children, assembled the crèche for the 50th consecutive year. A total of 15 people took part in the celebration.

And, throughout the hours of installation and the customary pasta meal that followed, family members told the Ledger-Transcript that Pellerin and the memories he gifted them with were in the forefront of their thoughts.

“My grandfather would be very proud to see that it’s still there. This is for him,” Penny Briggs said by phone Sunday. “The original structure has stood the test of time and so have the statues.”

About 14 years ago, Lucy McDonald took over the tradition when her mom, Cecile Pellerin, then a widow, moved into a nursing home. This meant the Christmas display moved directly across Main Street from its original location at the Pellerin home to the home of Lucy and Brian McDonald.

When McDonald can no longer take part, she said she hopes that her children and grandchildren will ensure that the tradition lives on.

“Everyone was concerned when my mom and dad passed what would happen and if we’d still do it,” McDonald said. “But it truly is the highlight of our family’s holiday. It would not be Main Street in Dublin around Christmas without it.”

McDonald’s daughter-in-law, Melanie McDonald, who has helped set up the crèche for 17 years, said she’s seen many people from throughout New England slow down their vehicles on Main Street (Route 101) as they approach the crèche.

“As we set things up, so many people on their way home from a long Thanksgiving often honk their horns or shout Merry Christmas out the window,” Melanie said.

About eight or 10 years ago, Melanie said a local family, who the McDonalds did not know, rang the doorbell on Christmas Eve to express their admiration for the crèche. “This family brought their children in and a tin of homemade holiday treats, as well as a sweet card expressing their gratitude for the efforts of our family,” she said.

In more recent times, the community has also supported the family in a period of great sadness. The Christ Child was stolen from the manager about a week or so before Christmas in December 2010. The theft prompted letters from strangers from throughout New Hampshire, phone calls and visits to the McDonald home, as well as offers to replace the baby Jesus figure from people who wanted to ensure that the tradition continued, Melanie said.

The figure was eventually returned to the crèche some time the night before Christmas Eve. It was wrapped in a plastic bag, with an anonymous letter of apology to Lucy and Brian McDonald. In place of a name at the bottom of the letter was a pin with a dove on it and the words, “Peace takes courage.”

In today’s fast-paced society where consumerism often goes hand-in-hand with the holiday season, Penny Briggs said Sunday that it is comforting to know that what began as a small family tradition has touched the hearts of so many people.

The crèche is about commemorating the past, celebrating new life and one’s family, Melanie said.

“There’s something in each of us that calls us to this task — a purpose greater than ourselves,” she said of her family. “It’s a gift to the community and a gift we give to each other.”

Once the crèche is installed each year, the final touch is the placement of an old, handmade straw wreath that is hung at the apex of the manger by Lucy and Brian McDonald.

“It brings a tear when I watch them climb that little ladder and feel to find the nail that’s always been there,” Melanie said. “There’s always a little smile and a kiss as if to say, ‘Look at our family. Everyone’s together. We made it one more year.’”

Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or adandrea@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @alyssadandrea.

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