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“I’ve always loved making Christmas crèches — it’s been a passion since I was a child,” Benoît Cochet tells Aleteia. “I kept this passion alive when I became a father, and one year I invented a crèche of simple silhouettes installed under a staircase, made visible by backlighting.” And so the Crèche of Light (Crèche Lumière) adventure began.
“I find it really interesting that the characters don’t reveal themselves completely. Looking at silhouettes leaves space for the imagination. One person can imagine Mary smiling; someone else, Mary contemplating — everyone has room to imagine what’s going on,” he continues.
The missionary power of a simple image
After this first creation, Benoît Cochet decided to create a larger Nativity scene to be installed on his balcony overlooking the street. He took up his jigsaw and cut out figures large enough for him to fit neon lights behind the shapes. “That’s where the missionary aspect came in,” he recalls. “The neighbors were delighted, and would even call to remind us when, one year, we were late to set up the crèche! We also started receiving kind words in our mailbox.”
Benoît shares the story of a mother who came by every morning with her daughter. The daughter didn’t know about Jesus, and the mother tried to explain to her daughter, who was asking her questions. One day, the mother told Benoît: “Thanks to your crèche, I’m trying to explain [the story] to my daughter, in my own little way.” The spirit of Christmas had come to that family.
The idea started to gain momentum. “The mayor of our commune supported us and we were awarded the prize for the most beautiful decoration in the village,” says Cochet. “Then the parish priest from Senlis came to our house for dinner and asked us to design a crèche for the cathedral! People loved it, and we started getting lots of orders.”
A growing project
Benoît Cochet had to get organized. The figures could no longer be made in wood by hand by him alone. The figures are now laser-cut from metal, and Crèche of Light has become a voluntary organization, giving work to disabled people. All the association’s profits are donated to Eastern Christians via Aid to the Church in Need.
The Crèche of Light has also found a place in a village near Senlis, thanks to crowdfunding. “A parish couldn’t afford to buy the whole crèche,” says Benoît Cochet, “so we invented a rental system. And someone from the village put a message in the mailboxes of all the inhabitants of the village — not just the parishioners — explaining the situation. He explained that if they enjoyed admiring the figures at nightfall, they could support the purchase of this crib by putting a little something in his mailbox. In this way, the village raised all the necessary funds in just a few days!”
For Benoît Cochet, people feel an attachment to the Nativity scene, not least by virtue of its aspect of cultural patrimony. “The 1905 law (on the separation of church and state, Ed.) authorizes the installation of crèches near churches, and private individuals can also share the Christmas message thanks to Crèche of Light on their balconies or windowsills, as the people of Lyon do on December 8. Some schools also set them up, and even some companies,” explains the association’s founder.
“When people see the crèche, the message spreads. The crèche is a way of announcing to the outside world what we expected in our interior. It doesn’t replace the living-room crèche with its santons, but the illuminated silhouettes bring the crèche into homes where it isn’t already set up. The beauty of the figures and the simplicity of the visuals are very touching.”
Benoît’s Crèche of Light continues its adventure, illuminating France, Switzerland, and Belgium, and this year will even welcome pilgrims to the Porte Saint Michel in Lourdes.