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Finding Minnesota: 834 Nativity Scenes

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(credit: CBS) Mike Binkley
Mike Binkley has been covering Minnesota news for more than 25 year...
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AUSTIN, Minn. (WCCO) — You know the story of Mary, who had to stay in a manger because there was no room at the inn. Now we have the story of Helen, who’s running out of room at home — because it’s overflowing with mangers.

Helen Holder and her husband, Bill, set out hundreds of Nativity scenes this time of year throughout their home in Austin, and tourists come from afar to take it all in.

From November through January, they have Nativity sets covering couches, desks, tables and chairs — even blocking the staircase to the upstairs bedroom.

“The joke at my house is at Christmas time, you can’t sit down, you can’t eat, you can’t cook. My husband says you have to sleep like this,” Helen said, as she mimicked a sardine.

It has become her passion to explore how different cultures all celebrate the same event but with their own unique vision.

Whether from South America, Europe, or Haiti, the native people create the figures in their own image.

“It’s interesting to me to see all the different materials and the different ways that people have expressed this meaningful event,” she said, “and made it meaningful to them by making it match up with who they are.”

She has Nativity playing cards, Nativity pillows, a Nativity hot pad, a Nativity necktie and even Nativity soap which she carved herself.

“Some of them, I think, are silly and some of them are ugly,” she said. “Some of them are very, very beautiful. But Christ came for us all, no matter how we look.”

This all started 43 years ago, with a paper origami set that Helen created in an oatmeal can.

Since then, she’s collected 834 Nativity scenes.

Many have been sent to her from friends and family members who are doing missionary work around the world. The figures are made of everything from a tiny watermelon seed, to eggs, gourds and glass.

“As I say, I’ve had kids (in the house) and not had any accidents,” she said. “The only ones that have been broken have been broken by me and the cat.”

She’ll leave them out for several more weeks, and hopes to share them with many others.

“Pretty much from November through January, if they call and we’re home, they can come and see the collection,” she said.

The Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau helps arrange tours of the Holders’ home.

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