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Nativity sets displayed at Westminster

Iva DeBoer sits by the Nativity set that started her collection — a wood-carved model made in Kenya. (Beth Rickers/Daily Globe)1 / 2
A detail of Iva DeBoer’s wooden Nativity set from Kenya is shown. (Beth Rickers/Daily Globe)2 / 2

WORTHINGTON — Iva DeBoer’s collection of Nativity sets started —not in some quaint area gift shop —but on a trip to Kenya.

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“That was 20 years ago —1993,” explained DeBoer, who lives in Edgerton. “We were in Mombasa, Kenya, and they were carving them. I have six children, so I asked, ‘Can I have six sets to bring home for Christmas?’ He and his friends carved them in the three days we were there.”

DeBoer also brought one home for herself, and it was the starting point for a collection that now numbers about 50. DeBoer will share some of her favorites during the upcoming Nativity Experience event at Worthington’s Westminster Presbyterian Church.

DeBoer’s twin sister, Ihla —now a resident of Estes Park, Colo. —lived in Africa for six years and was the reason for that initial trek to Kenya. Ihla started collecting Nativity sets about four years earlier, so they’ve had a sisterly Nativity rivalry going on ever since.

DeBoer made three more treks to African countries and also visited Israel and Mexico. Employed by Hope Haven for 20 years, her work has taken her twice to Guatemala. Whatever the itinerary, DeBoer is on the lookout for unique manger scenes and has also received some as gifts.

“I have sets from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Congo, Israel, Russia, Guatemala, Mexico, Italy,” she listed.

But DeBoer’s collection isn’t limited to foreign travel souvenirs. She also likes some of the classic specimens found at flea markets and antique stores.

“I am a collector of 1930s plastic Nativities,” she said. “You used to see them in thrift shops, and I love antiques.”

As the Christmas season approaches, DeBoer has to rearrange her home in order to accommodate her Nativity displays. During the rest of the year, the sets are packed away in her home’s root cellar and two storage closets.

“In order for me to display all my Christmas stuff, I have to take 45 cups and saucers from a hutch,” she explained about one of the major decoration undertakings. “I don’t consider it work, because I love to decorate. It’ll take me three weeks, approximately.”

While she finds personal joy in her collection, DeBoer loves to share it with her fellow Red Hat Society members and at special events throughout the region. The Nativity Experience is a new one on her schedule this year.

DeBoer plans to bring about 30 sets to Worthington for display, including the wood-carved Kenyan Nativity. Another one from Africa is fashioned from black ebony, and she also a set made from banana leaves. At Westminster, her collection will be set up in a separate room with each Nativity labeled as to its origin and material.

The Nativity Experience is in its seventh year, according to its organizers. Each year, the display has grown a bit, so there’s always something new to see.

Hours will be from 1 to 8 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. An admission fee is charged. Coffee, hot cider and Christmas goodies will be served.

Westminster Presbyterian Church is located at 230 Clary St. The east entrance is handicapped-accessible.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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