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HARRISBURG – An Enola pastor who didn’t have a nativity set under her Christmas tree when she was growing up now loves them so much that she will display several at the upcoming 17th annual Crèche Festival in Lower Paxton Township.

The Rev. Fran Whitehurst of Enola, a retired United Church of Christ pastor, will be one of dozens of exhibitors at the festival Dec. 1-3 at Colonial Park United Church of Christ in Lower Paxton.

This year’s festival will be held at the church at 5000 Devonshire Road from 1 to 7 p.m. Dec. 1, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Dec. 2 and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 3. There is no charge for admission and parking.

A free will offering will be taken for Christian Churches United Ministries, an ecumenical partnership of member churches in Cumberland, Dauphin and Perry counties.

“When I moved to Pine Grove, the church’s retired pastor’s wife collected crèches,” Whitehurst said. “I was fascinated. I started collecting them too.”

Whitehurst, who owns at least 40 crèches, said she likes previously-owned ones “because they have been loved.”

“I bought one at a ReUzit store in Lebanon County,” she said. “It had been handmade by someone’s father or grandfather. It was rustic and made with a great deal of love.”

She said that her collection includes everything from a nativity stamp from Ukraine to a crèche made in Indonesia.

“I will be bringing at least 10 of my crèches to the festival,” she said. “I love the festival because of all the variety.”

The 500 or more crèches from private collections will be displayed on tables in the church social hall. The crèches, from all parts of the globe, are made of pottery, straw, wax, wood, fabric and more. Some are knitted.

The crèches show how the holy family reflects various cultures – some wearing hooded robes, some wearing sombreros, some donned in Eskimo garb. Although all depict the birth of Jesus, there’s no such thing as a typical crèche.

“Crèches reflect the people who make them,” Whitehurst said. “They remind me of a hymn which says ‘Children from each human place see the baby Jesus face like theirs but touched with heavenly grace. And how they love him so.’”

TPat Greenawald, festival coordinator, said that the festival grows more popular each year,

“People grow up with them and give them to their children,” she said. “They bring back a lot of memories. Crèches are a personal expression of our Christian faith.”