A kickass feminist art-loving atheist’s Nativity


PHOTOS BY COLIN RIGLEY. Etsy artist at Scrambled Pegs successfully created (l-r) Cat Cat, Dinosaur 1, Jack, Albert Einstein, Dinosaur 2, Captain Malcolm Reynolds, Bill Nye, Sally Ride, Dumbledore, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Mary Shelley, Marie Curie, Bill Murray, Albus Dumbledore, Hermione Grander, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg for my reinterpreted Nativity. 

Call me an optimist–or don’t, whatever–but I genuinely believe that, despite being an atheist, there’s still a place for me at the Christmas table. Ideally the place closest to the fireplace and mashed potatoes, but I’ll take what I can get.

For a long while, my enthusiasm for Christmas was somewhat muted by the fact that I lived in an apartment which lacked space to store Christmas decorations and lights, and, though I did decorate, I always felt there was something lacking knowing it wasn’t my space. Making this year special for so many reasons I don’t have space to list. I have a house now. My first Christmas in my own house.

But suddenly the space, the sheer number of options and possibilities available to me, created questions, uncertainties. I wanted it all–the tree (as usual), the wreath, the lights, the orgy of poinsettias (faux, so as to avoid poisoning the cats) and tinsel and yes, the Nativity.

For the most part, it was actually pretty easy to find Christmas decor that suited my aesthetic requirements, which are fairly old-fashioned when it comes to the holidays. But the Nativity is such an unabashedly religious symbol that I didn’t feel quite comfortable utilizing a traditional Nativity scene on my fireplace mantle (a recent acquisition as my boyfriend and brother bought me a beautiful electric fireplace for Christmas).

I decided that the best way to handle the Nativity was to do my own interpretation of the scene, roughly following the traditional story but utilizing my own heroes in lieu of the more typical Nativity squad. I put a great deal of thought–too much, probably–into choosing these characters. I seriously considered a feminist Nativity utilizing only female characters. (Part of me still wishes I had gone that route.) My second choice was a science-themed Nativity, followed closely by a literary-themed Nativity. But in the end I couldn’t choose. I’m a feminist and bibliophile and while science doesn’t factor as largely into my identity, I sort of loved the statement a science-themed Nativity would make.

Mostly, I couldn’t leave anyone out. My tastes and hobbies are eclectic, and for a Nativity to truly represent me and my own particular brand of Christmas fanaticism, it would have to be odd as well.

I knew, of course, that it all had to start with Bill Murray in a manger. I also knew, of course, that my wise people would be women and that I wanted my cats to somehow be present. It just got weirder from there, but this was the cast that I wound up with:


Baby Jesus: Bill Murray from Life Aquatic.

Mary: Mary Shelley. The author of Frankenstein gets motherhood; what else is there to say?

Joseph: Charles Darwin. Being the father of evolutionary theory more than qualified him to be the esteemed stepfather.


Wise Women: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (that’s right, Notorious RBG in the house); Marie Curie (minus the radiation), and Hermione Granger.


Shepherds: Bill Nye, Albert Einstein, and Neil deGrasse Tyson.


Angels: Captain Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly, Sally Ride (from NASA), and Dumbledore. Admittedly, Dumbledore wasn’t entirely in keeping with the space theme I was going for but I could see Dumbledore’s ghost floating around in space so I decided to just go with it.


Menagerie: Rather than cows and sheep and the assorted stable livestock, I decided to go with two cats–specifically my two cats, Jack and Cat Cat–and two dinosaurs. Why? Because it’s my Nativity. That’s why.

Then came the question of where I would acquire the figurines. The answer to this, and any question involving where to acquire something eclectic and unique, was Etsy. I did some quick research and found Scrambled Pegs, an Etsy shopped based out of Raleigh, North Carolina with remarkable peg dolls that resemble Audrey Hepburn from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Frida Kahlo, the characters from Bob’s Burgers, and I immediately fell in love. The seller even had a Ruth Bader Ginsburg peg doll already listed for sale! A match made in heaven.

I messaged the artist about a custom order in mid-December, we discussed the details, and by early January I was excitedly ripping open a package containing my 16 Nativity figurines. Which truly are spectacular.

There are still quite a few details to work, namely the framework for the background. Do I go with a traditional manger? If so, do I make it myself? I discovered stunning wood carved backgrounds by Demetz Patrick, but the question of whether I should make something myself is not something I’ve been able to resolve. Then I saw some beautiful dioramas on Instagram and started considering doing something a little artsier than the typical rustic stable scene. Then there’s the question of how to frame the stable or backdrop–lights tucked behind fabric? Do I want stars or a moon hanging over the scene? Should I try to incorporate music into my display? And, of course, I still need the manger for Bill Murray …

Fortunately, I have 351 days and approximately 9 hours to figure it all out. Of course, I’ve got other stuff to do as well–publish Vestal, submit Book Three to publishers, work, freelance, write Book Four, and countless other house projects. But I can’t imagine any of these projects bringing me the same amount of pleasure as my very own Nativity in my very own home.



  1. Oh my goodness! I just accidentally happened upon this post. This is absolutely amazing! I made those! I had no idea what they were for at the time. It was a strange request with lots of peg dolls that didn’t seem to go together, but I never could have imagined they would be a part of something so magnificent!!

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