In a quiet prelude to the final mad dash to get ready for Christmas, United Lutheran Church in Lake Lillian offered a chance to contemplate all the different ways the first Christmas is portrayed in nativity scenes.
A Viewing of Nativity Scenes on Dec. 11 was a first-time effort by the church to offer this peaceful gathering opportunity to the public.
With quiet music playing in the background and plates of homemade Christmas cookies nearby, visitors could look at more than 70 different nativity scenes -- no two alike. Every table had nativity scenes on it. They were different shapes and sizes, from a tiny Precious Moments holy family to scenes with many figures including numerous sheep and several camels.
Ceramic, wood or crystal, they all conveyed the traditional scene of the first Christmas in different ways. Some were fragile; others were made of fabric or plastic, to stand up to children's play.
By far, the largest assortment was the nativities of Ruby Douma of Lake Lillian. She had brought more than 40 for the church display, and had more at home, she said.
"I don't even remember" how her collection got started, she said, but she knew how it grew so large.
"Once you say you have a collection, you get a lot of them for gifts," she said.
Douma and Marilyn Johnson were the organizers of "A Viewing of Nativity Scenes."
A few years ago, Douma displayed part of her collection for the church's women's group at an afternoon meeting. Later they decided, "Why don't we open it up," Douma said.
The event began in the afternoon and ran into early evening, allowing time for people to come after work.
Johnson said she and Douma spent about four hours arranging the displays around the room the day before the viewing.
"We thought it would be a quiet, nice place to stop and reminisce, to get ready for Christmas," Johnson said.
The Rev. Art Wiese spent some time walking through the room looking at all the different sets and said he heartily approved of the idea.
"It's a very nice, sort of Christmassy thing to do," he said. "Focusing on the birth of Jesus is a very important thing this time of year, with everything else going on."
He was a bit surprised to see that none of the scenes were duplicates. A few came from similar ceramics molds, but they were all painted differently.
People who had displayed their nativities filled out note cards placed next to them. Some wrote just their names. Others offered a little background.
The Rev. Art Wiese: "I purchased this nativity in Bethlehem on my trip to the Holy Land in 1997 -- carved from olive wood."
Wiese displayed another nativity scene he'd received as a gift while he was in seminary. It was painted by his youngest brother, Ron.
Jill Oslund: "Mom made the figures for me in 1982 and Dad made the stable."
Sarah Schroeder, 4: Mom bought this for me two years ago so I would have a nativity scene that wouldn't break."
The women who organized the event were pleased with the response to their requests for nativities. They said they plan to host another event next year, when the focus will be on angels.
A freewill donation for the Willmar Area Food Shelf was taken during this year's event.