Baby Jesus Brought Me to Bethlehem
By Margo Dixon
Cover Photo: Book Cover - Metropolitan Museum of Art "Angel Tree"
It happened again. At three different dinner parties this week, someone asked, “What brought you to the Bethlehem area?
“Baby Jesus!” I answered.
While that is the truth, it is not the whole truth. And I must admit I give different answers depending on where I am asked that question, and under what circumstances. When I am at DeSales University, surrounded mostly by Roman Catholic Theater goers at a dinner event, I elaborate considerably, prodded by their questions to tell them everything.
When asked by a waiter in a fancy restaurant, he has to sit down!
When I am with my fellow Unitarian Universalists, the answer from them is “No, really!”
The story has two beginnings.
The first is “How did you begin collecting nativities?” So let’s start there.
In 1964, I was invited to Thanksgiving dinner by colleagues at Smith College Day Schools, in Northampton, Massachusetts, and was introduced to a single male relative of theirs. He invited me to spend the weekend after Thanksgiving in New York City. He was a psychologist and saw clients on Saturday and Sunday mornings at his apartment, which was also his upper East Side office, across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
During the time when he was seeing patients, I decided to explore the Met.
It happened that Loretta Hines Howard had donated her collection of Neapolitan Baroque Creche figures to the City of New York through the Metropolitan. She and her daughter, Linn Howard, were setting it up in the lobby of the Met, I think for the first time ever. Hovering above and among the 40 foot evergreen tree were elegant angel figures garbed in gold, satin, feathers and glory. They floated over hundreds of Neapolitan figures attired in finery, all paying tribute to the Blessed Virgin, her child, and her consort. I had never seen such a beautiful sight!! I was transfixed.
We shared a little manger scene, when I was growing up in the Presbyterian Church in Colorado in the 40s and 50s. Every year my two cousins and I would take our nickels, dimes and quarters to the Woolworth Store and argue over whether to purchase a new sheep, a camel, a cow, or perhaps replace the Baby Jesus we had chipped the year before. Our manger scene grew, grew worn, and became a motley collection of figures, as what was available at the Greeley, Colorado Woolworth changed yearly. We often misremembered what was needed. We fought over whose turn it was to set it up. We fought over which figure should be where. We loved it. Eventually my mother’s sister, her husband and two daughters decided they needed a brand new one that “matched.” I was happy to take the motley one to my own home for future use and future generations.