Nativities tell stories

Lutheran Family Services kicks off Christmas season with Nativity Open House

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Deb Dreyer gives more detail on this Nativity set that once belonged to her mother, among more than 200 Nativities on display at Lutheran Family Services Sunday afternoon. While it takes a lot of work to collect donations and take the sets out of storage, Dreyer said it’s peaceful work, that helps set the tone for the Christmas season.

Around October, Deb Dreyer starts getting out the Nativity sets.

It takes some time to properly place the hundreds of donated decorations all throughout three stories of the Lutheran Family Services building at 230 Ninth Ave. N.

All that work creates just the right holiday atmosphere for the guests at the fourth annual Nativity Open House Sunday afternoon.

“The nativities keep multiplying,” said Holly Eldridge, operations manager. “We’re over 200 now, and they just keep coming.”

The Nativities are mostly donations, Dreyer said, although she does sometimes pick up things during an after-Christmas sale.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Cindy Mulroney looks over one of the more intricate Nativity displays—one showing an entire Bethleham village, with inns, houses, a well, and the famous stable at back and center. Mulroney was struck by the inclusion of palm trees, in place of commonly-seen snowy foilage. The complex village was donated to Lutheran Family Services and used as part of their annual Nativity display Sunday afternoon, but organizers didn’t know who had donated this or where it came from.

Some of the Nativities have a story, like the one made of olive wood from Bethlehem. Others tell a story– one display actually had passages from the Biblical story written on the figures.

One of Dreyer’s favorite rooms features Nativities in light blue and white, as well as a simple wooden one over the mantle.

“This one was a gift from my mother, so I would have to say that is an old favorite,” Dreyer said. “The old Willow Tree.”

She remembered when her mother would set up the display next to the stereo every year.

“In our home we had the advent wreath, and we actually cut real evergreens and had candles,” she said.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Wanda Pritzel gives a tour of the hundreds of Nativity sets on display at Lutheran Family Services Sunday, including this white and turquoise themed room. Visitors could come get into the holiday spirit and learn more about the former orphanage building which now hosts retreats, and provides a place for counseling services.

Some Nativities keep their stories to themselves. One new set this year caught visitors’ eyes with its size and complexity, but Dreyer said it was just dropped off as a donation; she didn’t know where it was from.

“That is the whole city of Bethlehem,” said Wanda Pritzel, who was giving a special tour of the items.

With its animals and shops everywhere, the display looks like a scene from the Middle East, said Cindy Mulroney, who was visiting with her husband Mike.

“Palm trees,” she pointed out. “Usually you see snow.”

“There probably wasn’t snow in Bethlehem,” Pritzel said.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Nativity sets large and small were on display Sunday. Some had multiple pieces and would fill a table; others could fit on a Christmas tree, or in one single ornament.

This was the Mulroneys’ first visit to the building.

“We have lived in Fort Dodge since ’91, and we have never been in here,” she said. “We saw the ad in the paper.”

The open house is a good chance to reach out to the neighborhood, Eldridge said.

“This is our opportunity to witness to the community,” she said. “Here this building sits in the middle of Round Prairie, and nobody really knows what goes on.”

People do ask questions, she said, and staff can tell them about the adoptions and counseling services LFS still offers.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
This unusual Nativity set at Lutheran Family Services stands out because of the text of the Christmas story written out on the figurines.

The former orphanage building today sometimes hosts a moms’ group, and also has well-equipped bedrooms for use during a retreat.

It still occasionally serves as a maternity home, Pritzel said.

“At that time, mothers needed a place to stay when they were pregnant. This served as a maternity home. But now it’s fine for people to stay in their own homes while they are pregnant,” she said. “It’s so different today. Adoptions are open, and adoptive parents are selected by the birth mom, and adoptive parents are often at the hospital when the baby is born, so there’s no need for orphanages.”

About 20 moms in the moms’ group will get the gift of a Nativity set this year, Dreyer said.

So many have been donated that LFS now has duplicates.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
This nativity scene, complete with Magi bearing gifts, shepherds, and sheep, is made up entirely of separate ornaments.

And yes, setting all this up is a lot of work, even with two or three helpers.

“I keep a lot of the things in drawers, so I don’t have to drag them all the way from the basement. The basement to the third floor is quite a hike,” she said.

“It is a lot of fun. It’s a tranquil time, and it helps me prepare for Christmas. Do you know what I mean? It’s kind of a mindset.

“You prepare your heart and your mind. It’s kind of a retreat from the world.”

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
The light accenting the Christ child underneath angel and star brings a glow to one of Wanda Pritzel’s favorites, as she gives a tour of the more than 200 Nativity sets on display.