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For 'Nativities Around The World,' The Story Is The Same, The Scene Is Different

The Christmas Nativity is pretty standard. You've got Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in a manger. The animals watching over them, three wise men arriving in canoes…

Wait… What?

"Because of course they could not come by camel," said Bonnie Titley, curator of the Nativities Around the World exhibit for the Global Village Museum of Arts and Cultures.

Of course, because the nativity set she's talking about is from the Solomon Islands, which Titley points out, doesn't have a lot of camels.

For Titley, this is an exhibit that has been more than 60 years in the making. In addition to nativities from community donors, Titley lent dozens of nativities from her own collection for Nativities Around the World. Nativities like the mahogany one she picked up while hiking in Haiti. Titley is obviously a lover of travel, as well as all things Christmas.

"We came across this wood carver who had some of his wares by the side of the road and we stopped to look at them," Titley recalled. "I wondered if he had anything Christmas. Well, he spoke French; I did not. And I finally thought of the word 'noel' being French. And his hand went up and he said, 'wait!' (He) went back into his shed and he brought the nativity out."

The exhibit also includes the Holy Family as a set of Russian nesting dolls, nativities so small they fit in a ring box, and even nativities featuring Joseph, Mary and Jesus as bears. That one gets a lot of giggles from children.

Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
A student from St. Joseph Catholic School look at a pyramid windmill Nativity from Germany

A colorful set piece from Mexico depicts the Holy Family riding in a Jeep – the baby Jesus throwing his hands up in delight. That's a favorite for 8-year-old Rowan Whisler, who is on a tour with his second-grade class from St. Joseph Catholic School.

"I like – how it's in a car," he said. "It's kind of funny."

For Maddie Murphy, the nativity on a "pyramid" is her favorite.

Well, it's not quite a pyramid. It's actually a miniature replica of the Mayan ruin Chichen Itza in Mexico. But the idea of having the nativity take place anywhere but in a manger makes the 7-year-old giggle.

The nativities range from the new – a family of mice from the Massachusetts-based company Wee Forest Folk; to the old – a tryptic from Egypt that dates back 400 years; to the very old as museum director LaVon Blaesi explained to the students.

Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
A ceramic jungle-themed Nativity set from Peru

"So, we're looking at something here called olive wood," Blaesi said. "Now the olive wood tree – they say – is made from the branches of an olive tree that was alive during the time of Jesus' birth."

Bonnie Titley's hope with an exhibit like this is that those who see it – especially the young people – get a sense that there are a lot of lenses one can see the world through.

"Of course, they're fascinated by many of the statues from other countries with – their faces look different… they see differences in the way people dress and the headgear," Titley said. "And, those are the kind of things that I think children need to begin to appreciate when they're little because then as they grow, they'll have a better appreciation of the fact that, while our cultures may be different, our people are very much the same. And that's an important lesson for children to learn. Wouldn't hurt adults to learn it either."

The Nativities Around The World is on exhibition at the Global Village Museum of Arts and Cultures in Fort Collins through Jan. 23, 2016

Stacy was KUNC's arts and culture reporter from 2015 to 2021.
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