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One Tank Trip: World Nativities at Glencairn Museum

BRYN ATHYN, Pa. - His birth is central, but what's around Him changes. It depends on where you are in the world.

"You can see how people from a lot of different cultures take the story and make it their own, so there's a commonality in that," said Joralynn Glenn, the marketing and public relations coordinator for the Glencairn Museum in Bryn Athyn, Montgomery County.

"World Nativities" takes the museum's visitors around the world. The exhibit features a collection of 39 nativities from 21 countries.

Glencairn's own nativity tradition goes back to the 1920s, when the museum used to be a home. The Pitcairns lived there, and in 1925, Raymond and Mildred Pitcairn commissioned a three-part nativity for their home.

They would display it with curtains closed during the holiday season. The curtains would be opened on Christmas morning, revealing the Holy Family.

"And on the left is the scene with the shepherds and the angel is suspended from above," Glenn added.

On the right, the wise men are following the star. It's a scene played out in each corner of the room, each time in its own way.

In Guatemala, the kings carried birds, and in Peru, they carried bananas.

"One of my favorite things about this is again that idea of the culture making the story their own, and for me, that's OK, because it's just an example of bringing the Christ child what they had to offer and probably their best and brightest thing," Glenn explained.

The simplicity of banana leaves from Venezuela, and one made out of corn husks from the Slovak Republic are juxtaposed with the elaborate.

A presepio is an Italian nativity scene, and there are four presepios in the museum.

Mary, Joseph and Jesus are ever present in the midst of a village. There's one in the exhibit with more than 100 figures strong, brought over from Naples.

One from closer to home was handcrafted in Bridgewater, New Jersey.

"There's a lot of symbolism going on here," Glenn said. "For instance, the Holy Family is sitting in a room that looks like a Roman ruin, and that is to symbolize the fall of the Roman Empire and the rising of Christianity."

Down the hall from the main exhibit is the Bird Room. It's called that because of the peacock on the wall. Each section represents a different country. There are Italy, Russia and France.

A box nativity is often called the "Christmas miracle of the Common Man." It can be made out of anything at all.

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