Growing up along the shores of Isle of Palms, Chris Nietert of Beaufort always has felt a closeness with the ocean and nature.
Her first footsteps as one of five children were in the sand.
"I have salt water in my veins and sand in my shoes," Nietert said. "And I believe there is nothing prettier than seashells."
Collecting seashells was a passion, but when she spotted a manger scene made of oyster shells at an oyster roast in 2004, her world changed.
Nietert began seeing the faces of the baby Jesus, Joseph and Mary in the shells she found on the beach. With the help of her husband, Jack, she collected oyster shells, waxy, wavy and pindo palm branches and pods, rocks, Spanish moss and other objects from the beach to build crèches.
Some of her nativity scenes are simple and include only Jesus, Joseph and Mary. Others feature the entire group, including the animals.
Creating the crèches and nativities is cathartic for Nietert, an occupational therapist for the adult mental health unit at Beaufort Memorial Hospital, where she is coordinator of the healing arts committee. A potter with a degree in art from the University of South Carolina art school, Nietert continued toward her master's degree in education.
"Whatever touches your heart is what should be in (the nativities)," Nietert said.
A couple of nights before Christmas, Nietert began making her first nativities. "When I decided I was going to make them, I spent a most wonderful evening. I just turned on some Christian music."
Her passion for creating nativity sets out of coastal natural materials has continued. One of her crèches is a part of the permanent collection at Mepkin Abbey and was a part of their exhibition this year. Her work is sold in galleries in Georgia and South Carolina, including The Gallery on Bay Street.
She also has offered workshops on how to create your own seashell nativity. It begins with a walk on the beach and an eye for faces within each shell. A glue gun is the basic tool. Other items are shells soaked in dish detergent and bleach overnight and scrubbed with a toothbrush to ensure the pluff mud is removed. If moss is used, place it in a paper bag and microwave it for 1 minute to debug it.
The nativity's base is often made of oyster shells, whelks, found wood or other objects. Desert foam, the opposite of oasis foam, may be used to help stabilize the base shell.
"A key factor for my work is that Jack has a great workshop with lots of woodworking tools that are very useful for making my crèches. He also assists in the found object search," she said.
One tip: "Mary and the baby must always have eye contact," Nietert said.
The final product is sprayed with acrylic paint to renew the shells' wet, kissed-by-the-ocean appearance.
"There are no set rules to making the crèches," Nietert said. "I think anyone who likes to work with their hands could make one as long as they 'see' the people in the shells."
ST. HELENA BAPTIST CHURCH
The Christmas Eve Candlelight Communion Service begins at 6 p.m. at Hunting Island State Park. Everyone wanting to attend is asked to meet at the lighthouse at 5:45 p.m. Dress appropriately for the weather and bring a flashlight. In the event of inclement weather, the service will be held under the shelter near the lighthouse.
FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH HILTON HEAD
The annual Christmas Eve Candlelight Service will be at 6 p.m. On Christmas Day, there will be one worship service in the sanctuary at 10 a.m. A nursery will be available. The church is at 100 S. Forest Beach Drive, Hilton Head Island.
Details: 843-785-4478, www.fbchhi.org
CHURCH OF THE CROSS
Christmas service times are:
MT. CARMEL BAPTIST CHURCH, DALE
The church will host its annual Christmas Eve celebration at 6 p.m. The youth will present a dramatic musical performance celebrating the birth of Jesus.
The church is at 367 Keans Neck Road, Seabrook.
FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF HILTON HEAD ISLAND
The church will features a live nativity from 4 to 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve with a family candlelight service at 5 p.m. Traditional Christmas Eve candlelight services are at 8 and 11 p.m. with 30 minutes of Christmas music by a brass ensemble before each service. Child care is available for infants through age 3 in the nursery during the 5 and 8 p.m. services.
Christmas Day worship is at 10 a.m. in the sanctuary.
The church is at 540 William Hilton Parkway on Hilton Head Island
The church will hold services at 11 a.m. today.
CARTERET STREET UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
Christmas Eve services are at 5 p.m. for family worship service and at 11 p.m. for the candlelight Communion service.
Christmas Day worship service is at 10 a.m. The New Year's Day Service begins at 10 a.m.
The church is at 408 Carteret St., Beaufort.
UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST CONGREGATION OF THE LOWCOUNTRY
"A Very Pagan Christmas: A Look Into Christmas's Traditional Roots" is the title of the Christmas Eve service beginning at 5:30 p.m. This multigenerational service will include live music (traditional and nontraditional holiday songs) and a presentation about how and why pagan rituals and symbols were incorporated into early Christmas celebrations. A potluck of heavy hors d'oeuvres will follow the service. There will be no service on Christmas Day.
The church is at 110 Malphrus Road, Bluffton.
LIGHTHOUSE CHRISTIAN CENTER
Christmas Day Dinner will be served at 2 p.m.
The church is at 3538 Trask Parkway, Beaufort.
LADY'S ISLAND BAPTIST CHURCH
Christmas Day services begin at 7 a.m.
Watch Night services begin at 10 p.m. Dec. 31. Communion will be held immediately after the Watch Night services. There will be no church services on New Year's Day.
The church is at 105 Brickyard Point Road, Lady's Island.
UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST FELLOWSHIP OF BEAUFORT
The Rev. Nan White will discuss "A True Christmas Story" at 10 a.m. Sunday. The fellowship meets at 178 Sams Point Road, Lady's Island.
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE SOCIETY OF BEAUFORT
The Christian Science Society of Beaufort will join with the Hilton Head Island and Savannah Christian Science churches to sponsor a weekly radio broadcast on WLOW 107.9 FM at 8:30 a.m. Sundays. The show will discuss how people overcome illness, relationship difficulties, financial hardships and other trials through prayer.
"Christian Science" is the Bible Lesson Sermon at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday at 401 Scott St., Beaufort. The society meets at Temple Beth Israel, 401 Scott St., Beaufort.
FIRST EUHAW BAPTIST CHURCH
The Christmas Day service is at 9 a.m., instead of the regular 11 a.m. service. The church is at 7855 Low Country Drive, Ridgeland.
SECOND GOODWILL BAPTIST CHURCH
The food pantry at 2201 Morris St., Beaufort, will be closed for December. Food distribution will resume Jan. 11.
ST. LUKE'S UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
An open 12-Step meeting is held from 7 to 8 p.m. every Tuesday in the Fellowship Hall. The church is on S.C. 170 near the back gates of Sun City Hilton Head in Okatie/Bluffton.
LUNCH HOUR OF POWER
Pastor Rufus Fripp, Pastor of Highest Praise Ministry will speak from noon to 12:45 p.m. Wednesday in Helen Galloway's Memorial Chapel of Chisholm Galloway Home for Funerals, 808 Bladen St., Beaufort.
SHELL POINT BAPTIST CHURCH
A free, warm meal and conversation is offered from 6 to 7 p.m. Fridays at the church, 871 Parris Island Gateway, Beaufort. Refining Christian Maturity Recovery meeting will be at 7 p.m. A food pantry is also available.
Details: Joy Kircher, 843-575-2200, email@example.com
TABERNACLE BAPTIST CHURCH
Watch Night Service begins at 10 p.m. Dec. 31 in the church sanctuary, 911 Craven St., Beaufort.