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More than 500 nativity scenes displayed in Windom

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Pamela Anderson, Mountain Lake, (left) and Joann Classen, Bingham Lake, admire one of the more than 500 nativity sets on display at the Evangelical free Chapel Saturday afternoon in Windom.1 / 2
Brian Korthals/Daily Globe A grand wood carved nativity set shared by the Community Bible Church in Mountain Lake greets visitors to the Nativity Display at the Evangelical Free Chapel in Windom.2 / 2

WINDOM - What do corn husks, coconut shells, newspaper and a Coke can all have in common? They were all used to create a likeness of the baby Jesus.

For the second year, the "Come Celebrate the Nativity!" display at the Windom Evangelical Free Church featured nativity scenes gathered from community members. There were more than 500 nativities this time around - hundreds of stables, babies, shepherds and about 1,500 wise men.

The display was available for viewing Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and the money raised from the freewill offering will be used to support the Elizabeth House, a family resource program that offers pregnancy centers, life skills classes and parenting programs in Windom, Mountain Lake, St. James and Madelia. Last year, the display raised over $1,000.

The instigator and coordinator of the nativity scene collection is Joann Classen, who owns more than 60 such sets.

"I saw a similar show is Kansas," Classen said. "It took me three years to get it organized and done here."

Classen collects and creates nativity sets because she thinks Christmas is important.

"It tells the story of ordinary people and a miracle that happened," she explained. "We celebrate Santa, so why not celebrate the real meaning of Christmas?"

Surrounded by likenesses of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, Classen looked around the chapel. The nativity sets, brought in by people willing to share, ranged from large wooden sets to tiny pewter figures. Lighted plastic mangers shared the room with exquisitely hand-painted sculptures and painstakingly crafted copper scenes. Some of the sets lit up, some played music, and on one, the figures rotated in a circular motion, turning to face the baby Jesus as they passed by again and again.

Here's one of my favorites," Classen admitted as she picked up a shepherd. "See the goofy grin on his face? The artist was so creative."

Surrounded by the vast amount of figurines, Classen admitted with a smile that she could not pick a favorite set, but could "maybe pick out 10 favorites."

Classen carved several of the sets herself, mixing them in with sets from different countries and cultures. A scene created in clay by her 9-year-old granddaughter years ago nestled close by a set from Belize made of ground up fish bone. In another part of the room, an afghan featuring a nativity scene was laid out by a set made of sugar cookies by a 9-year-old boy.

A nativity set of snowmen featured a baby Jesus with a carrot nose, while a set from Alaska was accompanied by a moose and seal instead of the traditional cows and lambs.

More than 200 of the nativity sets are owned by Geneva Stoesz of Mountain Lake. Classen said she was approached by people throughout the weekend who would like to add their own nativity sets to the display in coming years.

"Last year the sets came from more than 23 countries," she said. "This year I haven't counted."

It was only the second year of providing the collection to the public for viewing, but already Classen had to rearrange how she displayed the sets.

"We had to add a center section and push tables out to the wall," she explained, gesturing around the room.

One of Classen's creations was carved into the egg of an ostrich, others are fashioned from stone or made of clay.

"The first one I even made years ago, I went to answer a phone call and my son ate the head off one of the wise men," she chuckled.