“Joy to the world, the Lord is come…”

For 29 years, the Cathedral’s extensive collection of nativity scenes has delighted visitors of all ages as we tell the story of that first Christmas through the lens of cultures from around the world.

Since the Cathedral remains closed due to COVID-19, we hope this year’s online display will allow you to experience the wonder of Christmas in a new way.

These colorful sets represent just a fraction of the total collection. Each depicts the Holy Family in the culture, clothing and landscape of communities around the world.

Special thanks go to our curators, Lori and Chip Amos, for their work in selecting the images and providing details for this 2020 Online Exhibit.

Wherever you live, we hope these miniature displays remind you of the miracle in the manger as we each make room for Jesus at Christmas!

Cathedral Spotlights: Christmastide

Take a deeper dive into Cathedral Christmas images and symbolism, both inside and outside the building, in our December 29th presentation of Cathedral Spotlights. Led by creche exhibit curator Lori Amos.

Registration is free for this online event. Donations gratefully accepted.

register now

"Let Earth receive her King..."

A creche is a replica of the setting of Jesus’ birth. Worldwide, these sets are known by many names: Nacimiento, belen, presepio, szopka, pesebre, portal, Krippe and jeslicky. These scenes depict the Holy Family Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus—and most include shepherds, animals, angels, Kings/Wise Men/Magi or a star.

"Let Earth receive her King..."

A creche is a replica of the setting of Jesus’ birth. Worldwide, these sets are known by many names: Nacimiento, belen, presepio, szopka, pesebre, portal, Krippe and jeslicky. These scenes depict the Holy Family Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus—and most include shepherds, animals, angels, Kings/Wise Men/Magi or a star.

This nativity from Arizona depicts the world of the desert Southwest. The Holy Family, shepherd and angel are depicted as Navajo, while the Wise Men are represented as Jemez, in a buffalo robe; Yankton Sioux, his headdress adorned with feathers and horsehair; and Aztec, wearing a magnificent feathered headdress.
This Chinese nativity features three free-standing trees, an unusual feature. The trees can be identified as pine, ginkgo and flowering plum. Above the scene is a stylized star and rejoicing angels supported by their own delicately carved cloud!
In the 1950s Simone Jouglas revolutionized French santons by dressing the figures in fabric. The chubby Christ Child is securely bound to the manger with a strip of patterned cloth, while the three kings are dressed opulently in velvet and gilt fabrics. A shepherd and local Provençal farmer complete the scene.
Called Lime dolls, after their creator, Lilliana Mera Lime, these figures have no defined facial features. Their creator believed that though the people of the Dominican Republic have a defined personality, they are a mixture of ethnic groups and races who have come to the island.
Made in Yorkshire, England, these figures represent the corn dolly tradition. Note Mary’s braided hair and the sheep with straw horns and coats made from brushed wool. The figure of the Baby Jesus is made of pottery, which signifies that he is different from all the other figures.
Made in Cairo, this Holy Family is surrounded by figures with expressive faces and traditional Egyptian clothing, including a Nubian man from southern Egypt, a smiling shepherd and another man carrying ducks in baskets tucked under his arms, as well as a water buffalo.
This nacimiento from Honduras contains amazing details, including a smiling donkey and an ox licking its lips. The Christ Child rests his hand against his face, while the Wise Men ride their camels side-saddle, dangling their bare feet. They hold distinctive gifts, one of which resembles a large bell.
The bodies of these figures from Zimbabwe are made from woven straw, with black embroidery for the facial features and noses made of woven reed. The figures are dressed in simple colorful clothes and are joined by animals including a cow nursing a calf.
The bodies of the figures in this nativity from Singapore are made from the ground trunk of the cinnamon tree, mixed with water to form a soft dough. This set was sculpted by the Tay Guan Heng family, whose main occupation is making incense for use in Hindu temples.
This modern abstract nativity from Uruguay is made of ivory-colored clay with a dark brown overglaze. The baby is depicted as lying in an unusual triangular manger, representing the Holy Trinity. Other figures are simple shapes, defined by a sweep of drapery with minimal detail.

"Let every heart prepare Him room..."

The Cathedral’s collection numbers over 700 nativity sets from around the world. These sets have all been donated, with the largest single donation given by Cathedral friend Beulah Sommer, who gave the Cathedral over 600 nativity sets in 1998. Many different styles, techniques and places of origin are reflected in the collection.

"Let every heart prepare Him room..."

The Cathedral’s collection numbers over 700 nativity sets from around the world. These sets have all been donated, with the largest single donation given by Cathedral friend Beulah Sommer, who gave the Cathedral over 600 nativity sets in 1998. Many different styles, techniques and places of origin are reflected in the collection.

This creche from Switzerland is carved with the figures curled inside each other, forming a series of circular forms. The figures and their robes move in opposite directions: Joseph curves around Mary, who curves in the opposite direction to cradle the Christ Child.
Felted wool forms this nativity from Tibet. Joseph wears a traditional Tibetan hat with earflaps and carries a staff. The unusual stable takes the form of a wire armature wrapped in wool and topped with a yellow felt star. The wooly yak wears a tiny brass bell.
A range of facial expressions adorn the faces in this set made in Indiana. Mary reclines, gazing down at the infant Jesus. Joseph looks on in wonder, while the shepherds’ expressions range from happiness to awe to deep concern. Even the donkey gazes pensively at the newborn Christ.
This nativity was created by Palestinian refugees living in Jordan. The clothing is thought to be similar to what was worn at the first Christmas. One shepherd plays a native flute to honor the child. The Kings’ elaborate headgear coordinates with their opulent satin cloaks.
The craftsmen of the Akamba tribe of the Kisii District, Tabaka, Kenya, use only a chisel and a rough file to carve these figures. Sandpaper is used to achieve the final smooth finish. The dignified figures are joined by wonderfully stylized animals.
This whimsical set depicts Alaskan traditions and cultures. Mary is dressed in native garb, and Joseph as a Russian settler. The Wise Men bring Alaskan gifts: king crab, salmon and furs. The animals include caribou, walrus, puffin, moose, polar bear and the Alaskan state bird, the ptarmigan.
The Holy Family and a shepherd are depicted as peasants in this Russian nativity. They are dressed in rustic garb, decorated with traditional embroidery. The set includes a hen with an egg and a black sheep with its ears down and an expression of surprise and alarm in its eyes.
The figures are dressed against the winter’s chill in this creche crafted in Quebec, Canada. Mary holds the child and wears a white wool gown, blue mantle and a halo-like silver headband. Joseph wears an embroidered tunic and a mohair cape, while the shepherd is dressed in a fur vest.
This creche from Karachi, Pakistan, came to the collection in an unusual manner: a Pakistani driver from the American Embassy was escorting the Sommers when Mrs. Sommer mentioned she was searching for a local creche. The next day, the driver presented her with this, his family creche.
The hand-crafted needlework Maryland set is decorated with a variety of stitches done in brilliantly colored crewel yarns. French knots make the curly fleece of the sheep, and Joseph’s grizzled hair and beard. The child is wrapped in a fabric made from tiny stitches.

"And heaven and nature sing..."

Many of these sets come from the collection of Beulah Sommer, who first loaned sets for exhibit in 1990. She collected for over 40 years and was interested in nativity sets using unusual materials and those which reflected various cultures and traditions from around the world.

"And heaven and nature sing..."

Many of these sets come from the collection of Beulah Sommer, who first loaned sets for exhibit in 1990. She collected for over 40 years and was interested in nativity sets using unusual materials and those which reflected various cultures and traditions from around the world.

This pesebre, made in Brazil, is housed within a rustic wooden box, which opens to reveal the Holy Family placed on a bed of dried moss, as well as an angel, two sheep with their lambs and a large rooster, who traditionally crows to announce Christ’s birth to the world.
This nativity from the Netherlands includes figures in traditional Dutch dress, including wooden shoes. One of the shepherds plays a pipe in praise, while a female villager wears a traditional starched linen cap, neck cloth and lace apron and carries a basket looped over her arm.
A simple, white stable frames this nacimiento from El Salvador. Its two-dimensional figures are defined by blocks of vibrant color. The Christ Child’s hands are extended in blessing. The attendant animals include both naturalistically colored llamas and an ox and ass decorated in blocks of bright color.
The human figures in this set from the Isleta Pueblo in New Mexico have mouths opened in an O of wonder, with their eyes demurely lowered. The Wise Men carry traditional Native American gifts of welcome: corn, bread and a sheet of cornmeal dough called masa.
A testament to the skill and artistry of the South African Zulu women who created it, each figure is covered with individually hand-sewn beads. These beads create the abstract facial features, as well as the tiny halo around the head of the Christ Child.
This nacimiento was a prize winner in a 1983 Peruvian national exhibit. It is sculpted from wood and plaster and painted in vibrant patterns and colors that mimic the textiles created in Ayacucho, Peru. The shepherds play native instruments and the Christ Child physically embraces a cross, his destiny.
Sculpted by the late Peggy Daniell of Bear Creek Potters, Liberty Hill, Texas, the figures in this two-story stable exude joyˆ—indeed all the human figures are smiling! Among the animals is a long horn steer and a tiny chicken.
This nacimeinto, made in Oaxaca, Mexico, was awarded best creche from the National Foundation for the Promotion of Crafts in 1983. The child rests at the base of a Tree of Life. The buds and flowers symbolize the present and the future, while the dove represents the Holy Spirit.
This form of Polish nativity, called a Szopka, resembles a church façade. Created of cardboard and foil, some can reach ten feet in height. Candy wrappers, food wrappers and other recycled materials are often used in the construction of these nativities.
Made on the outskirts of the Sri Lankan capital, Columbo, this festive nativity is made in the form of a stage set. Twop angels pull aside both curtains and garlands of fruit to reveal the scene, while the animals are also decorated with fruit and flowers.