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The History of At the Manger

By Olivia Gillingham, Library Specialist in the Marian Library

Over the years, At the Manger has become a beloved Christmastime tradition for the University and greater Dayton community. As we wrap up the yearlong celebration of the Marian Library’s 75th anniversary and look forward to what the new year brings, take a look back to how the crèche collection and At the Manger came to be.

The Marian Library began collecting crèches in earnest in 1994. In 2007, it received its largest donation of Nativities, the Elisabeth Van Mullekom-Cserep crèche collection from Australia, adding more than 2,000 Nativities to the collection. Now, with more than 3,600 Nativities from more than 100 countries, the Marian Library has one of the largest crèche collections in the world, and one that continues to grow every year. Each Nativity celebrates both the similarities and uniqueness of how people around the globe imagine the Holy Family within the context of their own culture and history.

In 1997, Marian Library staff began displaying small Nativity sets throughout the stacks around Christmastime, but it was not until 2009 that the Library hosted the first “At the Manger: World Nativity Traditions” exhibition as we know it today. Now each year, the Marian Library displays hundreds of Nativity sets in the University Libraries, across campus, and throughout the Dayton community.

Every crèche is displayed alongside a thought-provoking reflection written by Fr. Johann Roten, S.M., Director of Research and Special Projects in the International Marian Research Institute, and the Marian Library’s dedicated team of volunteers place Nativities within settings that beautifully highlight the culture of each crèche’s country of origin. So the crèche collection does more than commemorate the birth of Christ; it also promotes the study of culture and religion; highlights the variety of artistic traditions within Christianity; and communicates the meaning of Christmas.

We hope you’ll celebrate the Christmas season and end of the Marian Library’s 75th anniversary year with us by visiting At the Manger, open now through January 18.

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