Putting Christ back into Christmas is the theme underlying a display of nativity scenes that has grown to more than 2,000 in the past three years.
“It’s growing because of the people, not because of us. It’s like a groundswell,” said Flora Nabrotzky, the organizer of the 11-day exhibit.
“I think it’s a wonderful barometer that people care about spiritual things by supporting this and showing their nativities and for a few days at least, the commercial part of Christmas isn’t as strong.”
Nativity scenes spanning the spectrum of cultures and ethnic diversity take over Walkerton’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Nativities in the displays range from the size of a thimble to one that’s larger than life set up outside the church.
“When we started three years ago we had 1,003. Last year we had just over 1,500. This year the floodgates are open. There are over 2,000. People keep bringing them right up until before we open and we still put them up,” said Nabrotzky, a floral designer who takes a week off work each year to set up the display with the help of a handful of volunteers.
Nabrotzky said even she is surprised at the growing interest in the event, which continues to attract submissions from farther afield.
This year’s display includes nativities from more than 135 churches from Cambridge to Kincardine, Wingham to Owen Sound and points in between. “We’ve actually received nativities from all over Ontario and some from the United States,” Nabrotzky said.
A wide variety of cultures are represented – from Asia and South America to Egypt, Europe and First Nations.
In the Inuit crÅ che, carved from black soapstone, the shepherds are replaced by polar bears, seals and walruses all bearing gifts while the lone wise man offers a large fish to the mother of the new-born Christ.
The nativity scenes are made from materials ranging from coconut shell, crystal, Popsicle sticks and pewter, to soapstone, glass, straw, gingerbread, barn board and ivory. Some are more than 100 years old and provide glimpses into the lives of people who created them. Several are hand-carved, one-of-a-kind family heirlooms.
The most colourful are those created by school children from simple materials such a construction paper and glue or pipe cleaners.
Joan Borho of Formosa has three nativity scenes from her collection of 13 in this year’s display.
“Over the years I saw one and said ‘Oh, that’s nice’ and bought it and saw another one and bought it. I was surprised at how many I have. Probably a lot of other people have more in their homes than they realize,” said Borho.
The displays are alongside what is almost a path that winds its way through the rooms and along the halls of the small church.
Nabrotzky said the design for this year’s display, which is bathed in the glow from thousands of tiny lights, came to her in a recurring dream.
“I kept having the same dream over and over again and I just reproduced what I saw,” said Nabrotzky. “The idea really came from God.”