You don't have to be a Christian or given to holiday season kitsch to appreciate the annual Christmas Crèche Exhibit at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Palo Alto.
For a couple thousand years now, the nativity scene has inspired artists all over the world to depict the magic of the Christmas story: Baby Jesus in a Bethlehem manger, surrounded by his parents, Mary and Joseph, the three wise men, shepherds, a host of farm animals and sometimes local villagers, too. It's an ancient tradition, as open to individual interpretation as there are humans on earth.
"It started with just a few people, with a few nativities, from a few places, in one room, and it’s grown to now, where we have it for five days and 10,000 people come every year as a tradition," says Marguerite Gong Hancock, co-director and co-founder, here all 32 years the church has been putting on this show.
These days, people come by the busload from senior centers and elementary schools all over the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. Families and book clubs add lunch nearby and make a day of it in Palo Alto.
The exhibit now takes over the whole building, from the sanctuary to the basketball court. There are 50 countries represented, with more than 250 nativities in every media imaginable: paint, porcelain, crystal, driftwood, goat skin, tagua nut, recycled bicycle wheels, auto parts, et cetera.