The crèche brings the Christmas story house for these “mega” collectors

(RNS) – For Rev. Carol Hull, it all started with a “nice” crib set or day nursery that her father brought home from a trip to Mexico as a child.

77-year-old Hull remembers buying a similar scene for her children to meet all of the characters in the Christmas story.

But it wasn’t until she volunteered at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York that her crib collection began.

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There she met a German artist who had been captured during the Second World War and held as a prisoner of war. While he was incarcerated, he had carved a small crib. He then continued making them and carving the figures as they might appear in different cultures – “his individual contribution to peace,” said Hull.

The museum displayed a number of his pieces – a Polynesian, a Russian, an Arctic nursery with the holy family gathered in an igloo and wise men arriving on a dog sled – and Hull found himself “inspired” and “enchanted” .

A crib in a convertible in Mexico. Photo courtesy Rev. Carol Hull

A nativity scene in the style of Thailand. Photo courtesy Rev. Carol Hull

Today the retired bishop priest has more than 100 cribs.

She admits it takes a lot of work to display them all at her home near Portland, Oregon this Christmas time, but it’s well worth it.

“I only enjoy looking at them for what they represent religiously, but also because a lot of them are really beautiful,” said Hull.

Many Christians decorate their homes with a crib next to their trees and stockings to commemorate the story of the birth of Jesus at the center of their Christmas celebrations.

Without exception, these sets contain figures depicting the Baby Jesus along with his mother Mary and Joseph, whom Christians believe raised the Son of God to be his own. The sets also often include shepherds, sages, angels, animals, and other characters from history recorded in the Gospels.

The tradition began when St. Francis of Assisi staged the first scene in Italy in 1223, according to Neil Allen, co-chair of the 2021 Congress of Friends of the Daycare Center in Portland, Oregon.

In the centuries since then, the scenes have shifted from churches to homes, and some Christians have made daycare collecting a hobby.

A crib in the style of Acoma Pueblo. Photo courtesy Rev. Carol Hull

A crib in the style of Krakow, Poland. Photo courtesy Rev. Carol Hull

For these collectors, the scenes are both universal – something shared by all Christians – and deeply personal – and reflect their own cultures and even interests. There are Halloween nativity scenes with Frankenstein’s monster and his bride, who represent Joseph and Mary, and a tiny vampire in a coffin for the baby Jesus in the manger. There are minimalist versions that are nothing more than colored blocks, hipster versions with iPhones and Segways, versions in which the characters are all cats or even food.

According to Allen, a retired pastor of the Christian Church (disciples of Christ), Friends of the Creche has more than 400 members in the US and Canada. They probably have 400 different reasons why daycare matters to them, he said.

For one, it’s a way for people to step into the Christmas story, broaden their perspective, and bring it to life, he said.

“People are very excited to see various presentations of the birth of Christ and so there is real power in communicating the good news,” said Allen.

Some collectors open their homes around Christmas time to share their displays. Others display them in churches or seasonal exhibits like the Peoria Area Community Festival of Nativities in central Illinois.

Exhibits at the Community Festival of Nativities in Peoria, Illinois, December 2017. Photo courtesy Shelly Crespo

Shelly Crespo started the Peoria festival four years ago after attending a similar exhibition in Texas, she said.

Not only was it beautiful, it also brought together Christians of all denominations whose beliefs differ in many ways, said Crespo, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“I thought there was probably nothing like it in this world – this story that touched so many hearts and continues to this day. And that makes people full of hope and wonder, ”she said.

In the midst of the pandemic, the Peoria Festival went online and became a worldwide virtual crib. The virtual exhibition shows photos and videos of nativity scenes from more than 100 participants and has already been viewed almost 11,000 times on YouTube.

There is a 2,000-piece set of popular Fontanini figures from collectors Michael and Diana Lage, which not only depicts the birth of Jesus, but also the events of his life and death. There is an Ecuadorian scene made of nuts, felt figures from Nepal, a Slovak holy family made of corn husks.

A nativity scene in the style of Spain. Photo courtesy Rev. Carol Hull

A Peruvian style nativity scene. Photo courtesy Rev. Carol Hull

Compared to many “mega-collectors”, Hull’s collection is quite modest, she declined.

It has increased since she retired 12 years ago and started traveling more to collect cribs from the countries she visited. As an art collector, she said, she likes the beauty of each piece. She also loves to see all of the ways Jesus is portrayed that are unique to these cultures.

Her favorites include a set from Thailand, whose animals include a water buffalo, and one from Mexico, in which Mary, Joseph, Jesus and three wise men wave from a yellow convertible. Another favorite came from Prague, she said: Mary is holding a bottle and Joseph is holding a teddy bear. Jesus has a binky in his mouth.

Christmas celebrates the moment when Christians believe “God took on human flesh and lived and lived among us,” said Hull.

“It is an event for all of humanity. Why should individual cultures not present it as it is for them?”

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