BANGOR – Deena Widmann of Winterport always loved Christmas. When she was a girl growing up in Phoenix, Ariz., her father would drive the family far from the Desert City into the mountains to cut down a Christmas tree.
As an adult, she filled her house with stuffed Santas, papier-mache reindeer, wooden nutcrackers, scented candles surrounded by plastic poinsettias and holly leaves, and many other Christmas items. Yet, Widmann, 49, did not own a Nativity scene until December 1995, a few months before her first child was born.
That Nativity set, purchased for her son, Garrett, who is now 4, will be one of 100 Nativity scenes on display at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this weekend.
This is the first year the church has held the event, said Michelle Thomas, who helped organize the program.
Widmann’s Nativity scene sits on an oval base about 30 inches long and 18 inches wide. It plays 20 Christmas carols, as the three wise men and their camels glide by the Christ child, turning their heads to peer at him as they pass by.
She purchased the set, which is made of plastic, in a discount department store in Arizona. Unlike other sets that will be on display, Widmann’s is not worth very much money, but on a personal level it has great symbolic value for the family.
“I had four early miscarriages before I was pregnant with Garrett,” Widmann said, from the Winterport home she and her family have lived in for two years. “It was Christmastime when I had a sonogram and knew it was going to be possible to carry him full term.
“I felt so special, like this child was a great gift and miracle for me, a little bit like I imagine Mary must have felt,” she said. “I felt strongly that the Lord was doing this for me, and I promised him that I would raise my son to really love the Lord. That’s when I quit buying Santas and started buying Nativity sets.”
Widmann promised to buy one Nativity set a year for her children. She said she probably would wait until later in the season to look for this year’s set.
Widmann laughed when she compared the Nativity sets she bought after her children were born to the much fancier Nativity scene the mother of two bought just before Garrett was born. The two newer sets are unbreakable – one is made entirely of cloth, the other entirely of plastic, but has no tiny parts.
It took Lin Meier and three family members the better part of two years to finish the 4-foot-long cross-stitch panel of a Nativity scene.
The piece is mounted on country pine and will be displayed with two smaller needlework pieces done in the 1950s by her husband’s maternal grandmother, Bertha Watson.
“I have known my husband’s family since I was in kindergarten,” Meier said at her Bangor home earlier this week. “His grandmother [Watson] taught me how to do needlework and a lot of other crafts.”
The other two women who worked on the panel were Meier’s mother-in-law, Jeanne Meier, and her sister-in-law Barbara Meier, who is Jewish. Lin Meier said that the needlework was placed on a scroll tambour so that the ends could be rolled up while other sections were worked on.
The stitchers started in the center with the star, she said. Under it rests the infant Jesus, with his parents on either side of him and an angel hovering above. To his left are the wise men and their camels; to his right, the shepherds and their animals. The piece was completed in 1992 or 1993, according to Lin Meier.
“There was nothing stamped on this, so we started with a blank canvas,” she explained. “We had to count out all the stitches and with four counters, it was difficult working it out. We worked on it some in Bangor and some in New Jersey. Whoever came into the house would work on it.”
Rebecca Monson of Machias will bring 10 Nativity scenes for the display. One has been packed away in various attics for almost 15 years. The ceramic set was made about 20 years ago for the small Washington County Mormon church by a 12-year-old youth, Scott Badger.
He painted the ceramic greenware, some pieces 18 inches tall, with colorful mother-of-pearl glazes. It was displayed for several years at the LDS Church in Jonesport, before that group disbanded.
Today, members of the LDS church in Washington County meet in the Congregational church in Whitneyville, but have never displayed the set there.
Monson will bring smaller Nativity sets she has collected for many years. One she has had for every Christmas she can remember; another her son earned by selling Christmas cards door-to-door. Others were made in Israel from olive wood and given to Monson by friends who had visited the Holy Land.
“This exhibit is a perfect opportunity for families and individuals to celebrate the birth of the Christ child. What better way to start the Christmas season?” Thomas asked while explaining why the church had decided to offer the program. “We want this to be an annual community event the first week in December. We’re hoping that we’ll be able to display more Nativity scenes from community members next year.”
Special activities for children will be offered, Thomas said, including an opportunity to touch and play with Nativity scenes, dress up in costumes and make holiday craft items.
The New Renaissance Singers will perform at 7 p.m. today. Three musical groups will perform Sunday: the LDS Children’s Choir will sing at noon, the Gong Family Chamber Musicians will perform at 2 p.m. and the Young Women’s Choir will perform at 6 p.m. A live Christmas concert by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir will be broadcast by satellite at 8 p.m. Sunday.
The exhibit will be open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. today and from noon to 8 p.m. Sunday at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the corner of Grandview Avenue and Essex Street in Bangor.