Column: Adventures with Abby – Embracing the diversity in Christmas


That is the number of Nativity sets at my home in Pennsylvania. 

Large, detailed ones like the one that spans at least half the antique baking table in the foyer. Tiny ones that could fit in the palm of my hand, placed carefully out of the range of wagging dog tails. Medium ones nestled next to the lamps on side tables.

Every year my mother gently removes all 18 from their wrapping and arranges them strategically around the house, and every year I help. Most years, we would leave the baby Jesuses in their wrapping until Christmas Eve. Then, my brother, sister and I would run around the house placing each little Jesus in his respective manger. 

I would proudly boast of my family’s many Nativity sets every time I visited a friend’s house. Their one Nativity with Caucasian characters paled in comparison to the rich variety my mother had collected.

Each Nativity of my mother’s collection carries its own story. 

Her first Nativity scene was a gift from a college roommate who was appalled that my mother did not have one. She brought the figures back from Mexico and found an ornate wooden stable in the United States. 

There are several from Guatemala, where we adopted my younger siblings. Each set displays a unique design and portion of Guatemalan culture.

As a child, I helped my father buy a vaguely post-modern style Nativity made from olive wood in the West Bank of Israel as a gift for my mother. 

My mother’s Nativities have become one of my favorite parts of Christmas. Each year I make a trek around the house, examining each Nativity with care, breathing in the memories. 

Until recently, I never realized the influence this tradition placed on my life. Each Nativity — whether small or large, vibrant or muted, lifelike or abstract — represents a different country, a different culture and an individual artist’s visualization of the birth of Christ. 

Throughout those countries, cultures and artistic perspectives, the story of Christ’s birth remains the same. 

As I placed each piece, I absorbed the truth that Jesus’ birth changed and changes lives around the world. Unlike the stale, mass-produced Nativities at my friends’ houses, my mother’s Nativity scenes displayed the richness of culture and creativity that fall under the grace of the Gospel. 

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