Away in a Manger: How one woman collected more than 100 Nativity Sets

Lauretta Santarossa has more than 100 nativity scenes – or creches – that she has collected over the years. Each advent season they hang on her walls, adorn her bookshelves, and cover her coffee tables. One is as little as a walnut shell, others are made from felt, papier-mâché or wood. But what they all have in common is a depiction of the humble birth of Jesus. Lauretta says surrounding her house with nativity scenes helps her centre around the real meaning of Christmas.

“The creches mean the Incarnation, that the Word became flesh, and that God is with us and became one of us in Jesus,”

Lauretta told 100 Huntley Street by email.

The nativities come from all over the world, each one unique and carrying a special meaning to Lauretta.

“One of the first was a surprise gift from a friend. Her partner’s aunt had passed away and had this old-fashioned dime-store nativity set with papier maché figurines, all a bit scuffed up and humble, probably from the 1930’s or 1940’s. He fixed it all up and repaired the figures and found a mismatched baby Jesus. I treasure it.”

“Another was from a dear friend who was part of a Canadian peacekeeping group in Palestine. It is carved on olivewood crèche, all one piece, from Bethlehem. However, in between the figures in the stable and the edge of the creche there is a wall, a removable wall, mimicking the huge concrete wall around Bethlehem today separating it from the rest of Israel.”

Lauretta’s central – and biggest – nativity scene keeps growing. She calls it The Whole Universe, Real or Imagined Comes to the Stable.

“When the young children in my family were little, I put Sesame Street characters in my first Santon based nativity scene because they all knew the Sesame Street characters but weren’t necessarily familiar with Jesus or the Christmas story.”

“I slowly started to add other figures I had from other cultures, even religious ones like Buddha and Ganesh, and historical figures like Queen Elizabeth, King Louis XVI, and saints, as well as fictional figures like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz and Cruella DeVille (because if anyone needed Jesus, she did).”

The most recent addition is Pope Francis, from a recent trip to the Vatican. And this nativity has taken on a deeper meaning.

“The message is, for me, profound. Jesus came for everyone, all of us, His love embraces everyone and everything, known and unknown, even our imagination.

And that is why in my central nativity, The Whole Universe, Real or Imagined Comes to The Stable, everyone is welcome.”