Manchester University
Oak Leaves

December 9, 2016

Nativity Scene

Christmas Crèches Come to Campus

Shelby Harrell

Three wise men and an infant surrounded by a wide variety of livestock is the traditional representation of a nativity scene. However, thanks to Manchester University alumni Max and Joyce Douglas’s donation of crèches to MU, the nativity scene is much larger.
The Douglases, who have collected over 500 individual nativity scenes, began their extensive collection during a trip to Germany as a pair of young adults. “We were looking for souvenirs,” Joyce said with a gleam in her eye as she described how they happened upon what would be the first item in their collection. “We had to have it.”
Located just inside the lobby of the Winger Building is a vast display of crèches, or nativity scenes, that were donated as part of the Douglases’ collection. Though each individual set contains the basic elements of a crèche, there are some subtle differences such as design, color, gifts and species of animal that makes each set stand out. “The designs and materials differ according to culture,” Joyce said, “Each set reflects the culture of the country it came from.” 

One such example is a wood crèche that was purchased in 1988 on their trip to Thailand. This unique crèche has 18 pieces, including Mary holding the baby Jesus, three water buffalos, one elephant, one goat, one pig, one dog and nine chickens. “The animals are very different form the ones we are accustomed to,” Joyce said. “The elephant and other animals are characteristic of Thailand.” 

Another example is unique for its design—a Peruvian representation of a nativity scene that was purchased in Santa Fe, New Mexico during the early 1980s. The piece’s shadow box design was enough to intrigue both Joyce and Max. “We saw pieces of this type in a shop window and were taken by the idea of such an intricate design in a shadow box,” Joyce said. “The Peruvian folk art is a charming way to represent the nativity.” 

Many of the crèches on display were made by sculptors, including one by artists S. Sitarski and J. Thedorowicz. Made of natural wood and muted colors, this piece was purchased in the Polish town of Hamtramck, Mich. in the early 1970s. “I’m not sure I was looking for a variety in the collection at that time,” Joyce said. “But I liked the charm of the piece, and it certainly presented a European flavor.”

Each and every piece of the collection has a place in the Douglases’ hearts. Joyce describes a time in which the couple feared the worst when the baby Jesus had gone missing from a set that they had been planning to showcase. “We searched everywhere,” Joyce said. “We later found the baby Jesus at the bottom of the packing peanuts.”

The Douglases’ donated crèche collection will be on display on the ground floor of Otho Winger Memorial Hall for the remainder of the semester and throughout January.