- Associated Press - Saturday, December 20, 2014

UNIONTOWN, Pa. (AP) - In a busy holiday season, the Nativity scene delivers a quiet but strong message.

“It’s a reminder of what Christmas is all about,” said Audrey White of Franklin Township.

“When I’m putting them out, I think it’s inspirational and it makes me feel close to Christmas as that’s what Christmas is all about,” said Mary Tickner of Uniontown.

The Nativity scene recalls the Gospel story of Christ’s birth, complete with Mary, Joseph, Jesus, shepherds, Wise Men, angels and animals. As Tickner recalled, the first Nativity scene was put together by St. Francis in the 13th century. It was live with people and animals. In the ensuing years, artisans began making Nativity sets that could be put on display for weeks at a time.

Now a staple of the Christmas season, Nativity sets are usually viewed at churches and sometimes in community displays. But Nativity scenes are also a traditional way of celebrating Christmas in the home. Both White and Tickner each have their own extensive collection of Nativity sets, dear to their hearts and happily shared in their own Christmas decorations.

White, who is retired from teaching preschool at Asbury United Methodist Church in Uniontown, owns about 400 Nativity sets that she has collected throughout her lifetime. She puts about 80 of them on display each year in the 1870 farmhouse where she resides with her husband Duane.

White’s favorite Nativity set is one she purchased from Sears in 1971, the first year of her marriage, just like her mother did before her. This Nativity is stationed, as always, under the family Christmas tree. She is also fond of a set her husband made at Sunday school when he was 7. White’s collection includes several wooden sets that she made herself and one she etched on an emu egg. While she displays favorites each year, she rotates out other sets, including ones featuring rabbits, bears and mice.

White has slowed down her collecting in recent years, now purchasing one set each Christmas and usually receiving one as a gift from a family member. Each set is carefully boxed and marked with information about when and where she received it.

Tickner, who is principal at Charleroi Middle School, owns 79 Nativity sets that she displays at her pre-Civil War farmhouse where she lives with her husband, Paul, who teaches at Laurel Business Institute. The couple also has four grown children and five granddaughters.

While she always enjoyed Nativity sets, Tickner’s collecting began in earnest about 15 years ago. Her latest set was purchased at an antique shop in Uniontown this fall.

Tickner spends time deciding where to place each set, usually changing the locations each year.

“It’s a lot of work and a lot of time but once it’s done, I enjoy looking at them,” she said.

One of Tickner’s favorites is a set from the 1920s made of hard plastic that she found in a shop in New Jersey and is probably her oldest set.

“It seems so natural and flawless,” she said. “There’s not much to it, but it’s inspirational.”

Another favorite is a 1930s set made of hard rubber.

“The pieces are very interesting and the facial expressions are very individualized,” Tickner explained.

Both women have Nativity sets made in a variety of materials, including pewter, plaster, porcelain, paper, metal, clay, coal, grapevines, wood and wax as well as those stitched onto cloth, painted on stacked boxes, placed inside water globes, on top of music boxes and engraved on ornaments or jewelry. While their outside Nativity sets are large, some located inside are only inches tall and might be found inside another object, such as a small statue of a Christmas tree.

Paul Tickner commented about the differences in Nativity sets, “I like that there’s a multitude of ways to portray it - different styles, different approaches.”

In addition to whole sets, Tickner often buys separate Nativity pieces that she finds in different shops, having the patience to look for mates that she can match and put together.

“Finding pieces that go together is like a puzzle,” she said.

Both Tickner and White have Nativity sets from other countries, some given as gifts or others that they purchased while traveling.

Tickner has a Nativity set on a plaque from Bethlehem, a small, one-piece set from Italy, and one from a mission church in California that shows a Spanish-Mexican influence. She also has an angel she purchased in Montreal, Canada to add to a set.

“We went to see a Passion play in Germany three years ago, and I picked up one made out of a nutshell and one made of wood,” said White, who also has a set made out of olive wood from Bethlehem, one carved in stone from Egypt and one made out of clay that a friend brought her from a trip to Peru and Argentina. Others include a set from Italy and one from New Mexico.

Sharing her collection with others, Tickner hosts a Christmas party each year where guests can browse through the Nativity sets to find their favorites as well as new additions.

White is placing many pieces of her collection on display at Asbury United Methodist Church on Sunday, Dec. 28, as part of a Uniontown walking tour of churches.

For many, Nativity sets represent the meaning of this season of kindness and goodwill.

Said Tickner, “I think it’s a nice time - a peaceful time - and it should be like this all year.”





Information from: Herald-Standard, https://www.heraldstandard.com/

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