Visitors to Glencairn Museum in Bryn Athyn can learn how Christians around the world have adapted the Nativity scene to represent their own cultures through a new exhibit featuring more than 30 crèches from 20 countries. A special section on New Church Nativities includes the “Representation” made by Winfred S. Hyatt (circa 1925), another variation of which was set up in the East Room of the Eisenhower White House in the 1950s (see photo); the original Nativity figures made by Bernice Stroh Sandström (circa 1937); and chalkware Nativity figures made by Theta Alpha, an organization for New Church women. Theta Alpha began making Nativities in 1941 to send to families who did not live near a New Church congregation, and kept up the tradition until the early 1990s. (See our next New Church History Fun Fact for more information on the Theta Alpha Nativities.)
An early New Church Nativity scene, at the Cherry Street Church in Philadelphia, was described in New Church Life in 1889:
“On Christmas Eve, instead of the usual tree, the spaces on each side of the platform in the Hall were occupied by wide tables on which were arranged representations, taken from the literal sense of the Word, of scenes at the birth of our LORD. On the left was a landscape where were flocks of sheep whose attendant shepherds, in attitudes expressive of awe and astonishment, gazed at the angel who announced the glad tidings of the babe in the manger. On the right-hand side was a representation of an Oriental horse-stable, showing better than any description in words how humble and mean and wretched was the birthplace of the LORD. Palms and plants, such as might grow in Palestine, surrounded these tables without intercepting the view, while the walls around were decorated with inscriptions. Over the repository was one taken from the Doctrines, and one on each side from the letter of the Word. There were others also in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.
“At the opposite end of the room were suspended many photographic views of scenery in the Holy Land. Water-bags and other articles used by the inhabitants of that country were hung about the Hall. A table was placed on the platform at the right of the altar to receive the offerings” (New Church Life 1889, 11).
“Follow the Star: The Tradition of the Crèche,” which features Nativity sets from five continents, will make its debut from 1 to 5 p.m. Dec. 6, as part of Glencairn’s “Glad Tidings: A Celebration of Christmas.” The three-dimensional Nativity scenes, displayed at various locations throughout Glencairn, compliment the Museum’s current collection of Nativity art dating from medieval times through the early 20th century. Glencairn plans to display the crèches each Christmas, and add to the collection annually.
Admission to the Museum’s first floor is free. On the first floor visitors can view many of the crèches and a 30-minute video, Nativity: The Art and Spirit of the Crèche. Activities include family origami and coloring projects and the Castle Café, provided by the House of Coffee in Peddler’s Village, Lahaska, Pa. Admission to the other activities, including a Ten Thousand Villages sale, is: $5; $3 for seniors and students with I.D.; free for museum members and children under 4. “Follow the Star: The Tradition of the Creche,” will be on exhibit daily through Saturday, Dec. 12.
The Christmas art listed below, and much more, will be on exhibit during the “Glad Tidings” event. For more information about this event, please visit the Glencairn Museum website.
Photo: The photograph shows President and Mrs. Eisenhower, posing with their son John, his wife and children in the East Room of the White House during a Christmas in the 1950s. One of the Hyatt Nativity scenes is visible to the right of the Christmas tree. The photograph is courtesy of the National Park Service (photo by Abbie Rowe).
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