Story & Photos by Rebecca Wheatley
SMITHFIELD — Nearly 100 nativity scenes from 17 different cultures and countries were on display at the Smithfield Tabernacle last weekend as the city Historical Society’s second annual Nativities of the World event.
Diane Esplin, president of the Smithfield Historical Society, said the event is unique because all of the nativities are on loan from Smithfield families, and many are family heirlooms.
“We advertised in church bulletins, the city website and the city water bill for anyone who would have a nativity to donate,” Esplin said. “We have been amazed at how many people have a nativity from somewhere else in the world.”
Esplin said since the nativities were on loan from residents, the event was much more meaningful to the entire town.
The displays were set up in the Smithfield Tabernacle on Sunday and Monday, and featured nativity scenes from African and South American countries, Native American cultures, and American favorites.
Esplin said that although this is only the second year the society has put on this event, it is already one of the biggest events they do each year.
“It’s a wonderful way to start off the Christmas season,” Esplin said.
Esplin said the new addition to the event this year was a 15-foot painting of Jerusalem that the society used as a backdrop for the nativities. Esplin said Smithfield resident Edna Berg had created the painting, Esplin said.
Berg said the painting, which was originally created in 2005 for her church, had taken her “too long” to paint. She said she was excited to see the painting on display again, since she had been storing it in her basement for several years.
“I’ve spent the last week or so touching the painting up so that you couldn’t see the seams from where it had been rolled up,” Berg said.
Berg said all of her knowledge and inspiration for the painting of the city came from pictures of Jerusalem in an encyclopedia.
“I just looked at the encyclopedia and started at one end of the city and painted all the way to the other end,” Berg said.
Jeffrey Gittins and his wife Lynda were the society members in charge of this event. He said the displays are a great way to bring unity to different cultures from all around the world.
“No matter where you are in the world, all nations have their own version of this Christian story,” Gittins said. “It has been told across tongues, nations and cultures.”
Lynda Gittins said one of the Historical Society’s main goals is to bring more events into the historic Smithfield Tabernacle, which was why they chose to display the nativities in that building.
Jeff Saxton, a volunteer usher for the event, said he enjoyed it because it gives members of the community an opportunity to learn about different cultures.
“Every culture has their own traditions,” Saxton said. “This is a great way to understand what other cultures’ Christmas traditions are.”