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Follow the Star: The Tradition of the Crèche

December 7 - December 11, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm
December 17, 18, 21 - 23 and 28 - 30, 10:00 am to 3:00 pm
December 12 and 19, 11:00 am to 2:30 pm
January 2, 1:00 to 4:30 pm

Visitors to Glencairn Museum in Bryn Athyn can learn how Christians around the world have adapted the Nativity scene to represent their own cultures through a new exhibit featuring more than 30 crèches from 20 countries.

“Follow the Star: The Tradition of the Crèche,” which features Nativity sets from five continents, will make its debut from 1 to 5 p.m. Dec. 6 as part of Glencairn’s “Glad Tidings: A Celebration of Christmas.” The crèches will continue to be on exhibit daily through Saturday, Dec. 12, and from 10 to 3 on December 17, 18, 21-23, and 28-30. The exhibit's last day is Saturday, January 2.

The three-dimensional Nativities, displayed at various locations throughout Glencairn, complement the museum’s collection of Nativity art dating from medieval times through the early 20th century. Glencairn plans to display the crèches each Christmas.

“We are collecting from a broad variety of countries to illustrate how Christians around the world have adapted the tradition of the crèche to their own national, regional and local cultures,” said Museum Curator Ed Gyllenhaal. “Almost all of our sets are made from local materials, and they exhibit regionally distinctive clothing, animals and structures.”

The Glencairn collection includes crèches made in countries traditionally associated with production of Nativity sets, such as Germany, Italy, Poland and Latin America. It also includes some made in countries typically not associated with crèches, such as Laos, Nepal, Egypt and Ethiopia.

Gyllenhaal’s favorite?

“I’m fascinated by the dozens of ceramic fèves from France,” he said. “For more than a hundred years, a small ceramic figure called a fève has been secretly placed in the ‘Kings’ Cake’ on Epiphany, a holiday celebrated to commemorate the arrival of the wise men (“three kings”) at Bethlehem. The lucky one who gets the fève in his or her slice is pronounced king or queen for the day and gets to wear a paper crown.”

Gyllenhaal said the fève originally represented one of the Nativity’s central figures of baby Jesus, Mary or Joseph. As time went on, however, all the characters in a typical French village were made to be included in the scene. “Everyone from the mayor to the fishmonger turns out for the Christmas miracle,” he said.