December 16, 2008


Earlier this year I revisited an unusual tourist attraction in Grove, Oklahoma known as Har-Ber Village. It's an antiques museum of sorts, but each exhibit occupies its own cabin-like structure, so visitors follow an outdoor path between displays. It's a half quaint, half bizarro affair; the type of place that would be fun to drag your out-of-town house guests to for some region-specific kicks.

The final leg of the walking trail passes through a series of long metal buildings which showcase an oddball assortment of donated collections. I was scanning the salt and pepper shakers and Avon cologne bottles when I noticed a display of nifty old handmade Christmas tree ornaments. They instantly caught my interest because they appeared to be crafted a few decades ago; the ric rac, sequins, and glitter made this fact evident. Better yet, I noticed they incorporated vintage gum ball machine charms and dime store toys!

Each ornament was inspired by a passage from the Holy Bible. So I was tickled by the sight of tiny plastic baby dolls done up as biblical figures, i.e. the baby Samson...

The exhibit quickly won my full attention. Next I encountered a rather nice depiction of the three wise men...

...followed by a charming portrayal of the beheaded John the Baptist...

Wait a minute...what?!
Was I really looking at the disembodied head of a vintage plastic baby charm painted up with a beard, and positioned on a miniature blood-soaked platter? I was!
Now, what's this??...

Could this be a scene from the parable of Lazarus where the dog is licking the beggar's sores as he waits outside the rich man's gate? It is!

"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores."

At this point I stepped back and realized that I had discovered the most delightfully gruesome display of vintage handmade bible-inspired Christmas decorations ever conceived. I wish I hadn't thrown away my program because I can't recall the name of the late artisan who created them. Why she went out of her way to single out the most morbid moments in the scriptures is a highly entertaining mystery. She neglected Adam and Eve in favor of flesh eating birds, a flood of blood, and demon possessed pigs. Was she trying to appeal to a different audience by revealing the Bible's "R-rated" content? Did she simply have a taste for the darker side of things? Don't get me wrong, to me Christmas is as biblical as it gets– a celebration of Christ's birth. It's just that I'm more accustomed to hearing from the Gospel of Luke this time of year.

What makes this collection so appealing to me is the wonderfully stark contrasts; the primitive arts n' crafts aesthetic, and the children's toys employed to bring the most horrific verses to life... all intended to garnish a Christmas tree! I also like the sense of sincerity I get from this massive effort. Just because the message she wished to communicate was menacing didn't stop her from utilizing the outlet she was comfortable with– handmade Christmas ornaments.

And so, it is my distinct pleasure to present the Har-Ber Village horrors of the Bible Christmas collection. (And to be fair, I must admit that I didn't include a number of the tamer works in the following photo set.) As you can see, each piece includes a verse of origin; for your convenience I've provided the corresponding scripture for every one. For even more grisly detail, click on any image for a larger view.

"By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the LORD out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. But Lot's wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt."

"Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling. "It is written," he said to them, " 'My house will be a house of prayer'; but you have made it 'a den of robbers.' "

"Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: "The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard." Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, "Rabbi!" and kissed him. The men seized Jesus and arrested him."

"When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. "What do you want with us, Son of God?" they shouted. "Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?" Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus, "If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs." He said to them, "Go!" So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water."

"Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians."

"Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?"
"I don't know," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?"

The LORD said, "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth."

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."

"Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his knees knocked together and his legs gave way." (Daniel 5:5,6)

"For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first."

"When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, "These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice." The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten."

"Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them."...

"Now Absalom happened to meet David's men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom's head got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going."

"...I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest. Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. ...I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, "A quart of wheat for a day's wages, and three quarts of barley for a day's wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!" ...I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth."

"The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" I said, "O Sovereign LORD, you alone know."
Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones and say to them, 'Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.' "

[Note: I like to think that I know the Bible pretty well. So I have no idea why it's taken me this long to discover... the reanimated skeletons!! Amazing.]

"Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you."

"So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself."

"When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. And he took the calf they had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it."

"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

"And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended."

"The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God's wrath. They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses' bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia."

"And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, "Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great."

"The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down from here. For it is written:
" 'He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.' "
Jesus answered, "It says: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' "

"I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God."

Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, "Weren't there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?" They replied, "Certainly, O king."He said, "Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods." Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, "Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!"

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel."

"I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years."

"He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name. This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666."

Merry Christmas from the Secret Fun Blog!

(If you'd like more context to these passages, the Bible in its entirety can be accessed at Bible Gateway.)


Swapatorium said...

That's the best thing I have seen in a long time! Thanks for posting!

Sue said...

WOW!!! That has got to be the best collection of xmas ornaments ever. I can't pick a favorite, but the various decapitated heads are in the lead. Thank you Kirk, for brightening my dreary day.

Jamey Clayberg said...

My fave Funspot post of all time... right there. Wow. I can't think of anything that combines so many Funspot niche's into one wadded up katamari of bizarreness! Veray nigheece.

Devlin Thompson said...

That fake-Madball devil is mid-'80s vintage, which means that either (A) these are of more recent vintage than you imagine, or (B) they represent work done across a span of many years. Either scenario just makesa it even MORE interesting! In a tangentially-related note, I was in Anderson, SC yesterday, and noticed that there's a new used car lot out on Hwy. 29 across the road from the cemetery where my grandparents are interred that operates under the name of "Rapture View Auto Sales!"

Todd Franklin said...

Wow, this might be the coolest thing I see this Christmas season.

Is there a an astronaut on the Winepress of God's Wrath Ornament?

My favorite is between the Hand Writing On the Wall and Ezekiel In the Valley of Dry Bones!

Swanky said...

Fantastic! Just makes me giddy! I just wish there was a picture of the complete tree with all the ornaments in situ...

Steven A. said...

That was just the best thing ever! It starts out strong and keeps on getting better and better and better... all those decapitated heads tell me Christmas is right around the corner! But out of all that doom and gloom and gore my favorite has to be the understated simplicity (and enthusiastic literalism) of 'Plank in the Eye.'

John Rozum said...

The decorations on my tree seem woefully inadequate now.

I think my favorite is the birds of prey simply because of the juxtaposition of the cheerful canary and the dead man flanking the owl. I was unaware that the giant canary was a bird of prey.

The most unbelievable aspect of this post though was the part where you said you'd thrown away the program guide to this exhibit. I simply find it hard to believe that you've thrown anything away.

Anonymous said...

Was that her version of truth in advertising? One can only wonder if her children activly avoided the Christmas tree.
Very interesting indeed.

Duranfan said...

Wow... is it just me, or are the most evil scenes the prettiest (Kiss of Death, Hanging of Judas, Pit of Hell...).

And I'm still wiping away the tears of laughter from 666. As an ornament. Meant to go on a Christmas tree. *giggle snort*

Aaron said...

Kudos for this artist presenting "the whole counsel of God". :)

I wish she woulda made an ornament for my favorite Youth Pastor verse: 2 Kings 2:23-24, "From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. "Go on up, you baldhead!" they said. "Go on up, you baldhead!" He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths."

The rapture ornament features that popular painting by Charles Anderson.

Great post Kirk! Merry Christmas!

Brian said...

Reminds me of the Church bazaars my mother used to go to.

A tree of our sins is appropriate at Christmas time.
It is why Jesus was born.
We are all sinners, as these ornaments remind us, and we need a Savior to redeem us.

Jesus was born to be our Savior.
He lived a sinless life and took the wrath of our sins upon Himself on the cross.
He rose again the third day defeating death for us, if we repent and trust in Jesus to save us.

I bet this lady was a loved Sunday school teacher and her kids probably remember her illustrated Bible verses today.

Nice post

Dan Goodsell said...

I think my life is now complete - how can any artist ever live up to this high standard - GNAT AND CAMEL - true greatness

Jody B. said...

Man...I'm speechless. Such good intentions on the part of the person who made these...and yet so untentionally strange, surreal and brutal. To be honest, this is the kind of stuff I would have wanted to make during craft time in Bible school as a kid. Does that make me weird and brutal? I just remembered I built a hanging gallows for my GI Joes...maybe that's too much information. I'll shut up now.

Kirk D. said...

Swapatorium- Hey, thanks!

Sue- I wonder what her preferred method of decapitation was. X-acto blade maybe?

Jamey- Whoa, the bar is officially raised then. A new challenge awaits me!

Devlin- You are so right! And I can't believe I didn't get that because I HAVE that silly devil ball as well. I adjusted the original post accordingly. My new theory is that she was schooled in the craft in the 60s and 70s, but these span from 70s to 80s. (I had a number of those baby and animal designs in the early 70s too)
Thanks for keeping me accountable in my novelty toy facts. It's a big job I know.

todd- haha! I think you're right!
Either that or a diver. There are definitely tanks on his back.

swanky- Makes me wonder what the tree would look like. Dead maybe? In a bucket of blood?

steven a.- ha, I agree, the plank jammed into (not just laying upon) the eye of the dainty lady is priceless. I like here surprised expression as well.

john- lol! They had slotted boxes around the park with signs that asked patrons to recycle the pamphlets. My wife tossed ours in before I could object. This explains my highly unusual predicament.

anonymous- If I saw it when I was a kid I would have been totally enamored. I'll bet any kids who got a good look at her tree have never
forgotten it.

duranfan- I agree, the black ones have a certain elegance to them.

aaron- I said the exact same thing to my wife! I can just see the little plastic bears on a rampage.
Maybe I should make that one.

brian- Yes, it occurred to me that something like that might have been her point. I agree that she was probably a major force in her church and a very interesting lady.

dan- ha ha, I like thinking that a simple visit to my blog finally completed your life.

jody b.- I don't think it's weird at all. Growing up I was obsessed with the book of Revelation and loved Chick Tracts because they're just so interesting.

K0dama said...

I think Wages of Sin is my favorite - a fireball of troll doll hair with playing cards neatly tucked inside.

mystery ass said...

Great post! Thanks!

Order Bendaroos said...

I love the 'Board in Eye'! Too hilarious. Makes you think a bit...

I'll have to show my friend the 'Wages of Sin'. He's in that band!

The Vintage Reader said...

Best. Christmas post. Ever.

Ugly Scott said...

i am deeply inspired. oddly, i think the verse labels are the coolest looking part or each.

Chris Donato said...

Such other-worldly coolness right in your own backyard! I can just see all the little children gathering 'round the tree for the annual walk through-the-Bible — one they'll never forget.

Anonymous said...

Looking at the labels, I would guess that the artist keyed in the verses and printed them out and then cut & pasted. The font is Helvetica. Available on Macs, late 80s, early 90s. Unless the labels came later. Could be anytime in the past 20 years. Just a thought.

crow said...

This is one of the greatest things I've ever seen. If I were more ambitious, I'd start making ornaments like these right now, to be ready for next Christmas. I guess it would help if I was Christian, too.

The Flying Maciste Brothers said...

Well, you've just gone and done it now, boy... Looks like you've given The Flying Maciste Brothers a true reason to believe! Ordinarily, we would just thank you for this post...but maybe this time...we'll thank God(?).

RoverHaus said...

This is pure genius and awesome.

My favorite is Cain burying his brother.

Thanks for digging this up and sharing with us!

sweetheartville said...

Oh man, I LOVE Har-Ber Village! Great post!

johnny dollar said...

what's a christmas tree without 666 on it?

Raymond Fujimoto said...

The Christmas season has come to mean the period when the public plays Santa Claus to the merchants. ~John Andrew Holmes

Raymond Fujimoto said...

May Peace be your gift at Christmas and your blessing all year through!