SALT LAKE CITY — The nativity scenes on display for the Church History Museum's annual Christmas exhibit come from places like Sweden, Poland, Zaire, Germany, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and India, and will be up through Jan. 8.
"Almost all of them are from the museum collection," said Ray Halls, the museum's education manager, "and many are by Latter-day Saints."
Halls enjoys seeing how the different cultures express themselves.
"In these creche scenes, you can see goats, turkeys, a lion, a jaguar and even an ostrich participating in the event of the birth of Jesus," he said. He also pointed out the unique gifts given to the Savior which include items like the bushel of corn and traditional blankets found in the Mayan Tradition crche scene. The materials used to make the crche sets include fired terra cotta, carved olive wood, mazapan, metal, and fabric, among others.
"I love how each country takes the birth of the Savior and personalizes it into its own culture," Halls said.
Sculptures, paintings, and a quilt are also displayed to complement the crche sets.
"We have enhanced the exhibit with other works of art," Halls said. "Even our new MicroTiles screen is part of the display—we have people telling Christmas stories and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing to you as you enter the museum."
An Italian painting by an unknown artist is the oldest in the museum collection and depicts the baby Jesus with his mother, Mary. A striking Walter Rane painting shows the boy Jesus working with his carpenter father, Joseph.
"In this work of art," Halls said, "Jesus' expression seems to tell us that he understands more than His youthful age belies."
One special item loaned to the museum for the seasonal display is a quilt titled "Day of Joy and Mercy" designed by Sara Morgan, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The quilt was made in 2005 for the second annual St. Louis, Missouri interfaith Crches and Carols exhibit and was on display there for three years. Afterward, it was shown in a Christmas display at the Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors' Center.
In describing the creative process, Morgan said, "This was a spiritual journey for me as I did not intentionally plan symbols in the quilt. About three months into the quilt I was touched by the Spirit to see the symbols already there and was inspired to do the rest." Symbols in the quilt include three rings of light representing the three degrees of glory; thorn bush flowers representing the Atoning Sacrifice; and a crying lamb representing the tears shed by those who have come to understand what Jesus has done for them.
The museum Christmas display is an inspiring sight, and all are welcome to come and see.
"We've tried to tell the complete story from the annunciation to birth to childhood," Halls said.
The museum display is free and open to the public. Regular hours are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The museum will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. New Year's Eve and Jan. 2 and will be closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Special gallery tours conducted by volunteer docents are available Monday through Saturday for church, school and private groups. Tours must be scheduled two weeks in advance. Call 801-240-4615 for reservations.