One of nation’s largest private nativity collections on display in Midway
A Heber Valley woman is showcasing her private nativity collection with thousands of pieces from around the world at a free open house.
Christmas enthusiasts won’t have to go too far away to see a manger this holiday season. For a few weekends in December, Holly and Jack Zenger will open their 20,000-square-foot home for the public to experience one of the nation’s largest and most diverse private nativity collections (known as a crèche).
Holly has collected crèches for over 35 years and said the quality of those works is similar to that found in fine art museums. She buys nativities during her travels that reflect the personality of each culture. They are made with everything from beeswax to beaver hide to dung mixed with mud to Vatican-approved pieces with the finest porcelain and glass.
“I have a set from Murano, Italy, and it's very modern; they only sell three sets," said Holly. "And of course, the glass colors are just beautiful. And they gave one to the museum, one to the artist, and then they sell one.”
It’s tough to pick a favorite but for sentimental reasons, Holly said she loves the nativity her children made of her 37 grandchildren.
Her signature crèche is undoubtedly the handcrafted 1,000-piece Fontanini set. This tradition dates back to the late 1800s when company founder Emanuele Fontanini began creating crèche figures in Tuscany that have since been passed down for generations. They were not available for purchase in the United States until 1973.
“The wonderful thing about the Fontanini is it is made in Italy out of a very hard rubber," she said. "And so children can play with it and it does not break. But it’s a wonderful starter piece to have. They’re 5 inches tall and they put out a new figure every year and they’re just really charming.”
Most of the figures have a name and a backstory. Holly has a handful of their descriptions displayed on the wall for people to try to find in the expansive Bethlehem diorama. There is the boy David who led Mary and Joseph from his uncle’s inn to the stable. Or the shepherd Gideon who held a sickly lamb one night and when a wondrous star appeared in the sky, the lamb was miraculously cured.
Next to that display is a near life-sized Fontanini of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus; it is a replica of the one in the Pope’s private library.
There will be five other collectors showcasing crèches at “Friends of the Nativity,” as well as a hands-on children’s area.
Holly said she finds a lot of joy in sharing her nativities and it was an honor to be recognized by U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney when he sent her a flag that was flown over the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 1. The certificate read: “This flag was flown for Holly Zenger in honor of her 36 years of dedication to the artistry, display and traditions of the Christmas nativity.”
Thirty-six years is a long time to collect crèches. So, just how many does she own?
“Do you want to know what my husband thinks I have or what I actually have?" she said. "My husband thinks I probably have around 1,000. I think I probably have around 2,000. So, we will walk around and he will say, ‘Is this one of yours?’ And I like to say, ‘It's one of ours, not just mine. It's yours too.’”
And now, this collection is all of ours as Holly showcases in Midway what the story of Christmas means to cultures around the world.
Crèche Exhibits in Midway
Friends of the Nativity
When: Dec. 1-4; 8-10; 15-17 from 1-7 p.m. Private mid-week tours available by appointment only.
Where: Zenger residence 275 Luzern Road, Midway (also 8 Altamont Dr. on some maps).
Festival of Crèches
The Midway Boosters also hosts an elaborate nativity display for free. This year's theme is "Stars Were Gleaming."
When: Dec. 1-2, 11 a.m.- 8 p.m.; Dec. 3, 1-5:30 p.m.; Dec. 4, 1-7:30 p.m.
Where: Midway Town Hall, 120 West Main Street, Midway.