Christmas is a time for family, friends, faith and unity.

All over the world, Christians have incorporated nativity scenes into their holiday decorations and celebrations. The Arrowhead and Aerospace Museum in Manchester is bringing a little of that international flavor to Coffee County this holiday season with its latest exhibit.

In addition to the many historical displays the on exhibit year round, the museum is getting into the spirit of the season with a Christmas display titled Nativities from Around the World. However, there is more to these nativities than what meets the eye.

There are approximately 350 nativity scenes on display at the museum, ranging from extremely extravagant to very minimalistic. The story behind them though, is truly one of a kind.

As visitors walk through the exhibits, they will notice that every nativity has a card describing where it came from. Scenes spread far and wide as they have made their way across the globe; some as far away as Zimbabwe. But, how did they make it to Manchester?

 

It takes a village

Ten Thousand Village is a nonprofit organization with stores spread across the United States and Canada. The organization’s purpose is to purchase items made by artists living in villages in developing countries and sell it in North America. Every purchase made from Ten Thousand Villages impacts the life and community of its original maker.

According to its website, Edna Byler started Ten Thousand Villages after taking a trip to Puerto Rico with her husband in 1946. When Byler arrived in Puerto Rico, she met several women who were struggling to feed their children in La Plata Valley. Byler couldn’t help but notice the beautiful textiles that were being made by the women there, but the women had no place to sell them to make a living.

Byler bought the textiles and brought them back to the continental U.S. with the intentions to tell the women’s stories and sell the textiles for them. By the 1950s, Byler was making trips to poverty stricken villages around the globe to support local artisans’ handiwork and bring the pieces back to the United States to share the stories of the creators. She always included in her sales pitch that each purchase helps a woman feed her family and gain economic independence.

In addition to Ten Thousand Villages, another nonprofit organization called Serrv is dedicated to fighting poverty through fair and ethical trade.

According to its website, Serrv was established in 1949 to help displaced refugees trade their handmade crafts for income after World War II.

Through the purchase of these handmade crafts, lives are changed and poverty is challenged. Poverty affects more than 700 million people worldwide. Purchasing from Serrv can positively influence those using their handy work to make impoverished communities stronger.

The Arrowhead and Aerospace Museum purchased many of the nativity scenes on display from either Ten Thousand Villages or through Serrv. As visitors walk through the scenes, each display has a unique set of characteristics that set it apart from the one next to it. This is because each nativity scene was made with materials used in that village, tribe or community.

One unique nativity scene made its way to the museum all the way from Uganda, a landlocked country in east Africa. This scene is made completely out of corn stalks, a hollowed out corn cob and woven thread from village animals.

“Each of these nativity scenes have their own stories,” said museum director Judy Worthington. “They are all so unique, and I love how each one shows a little bit about their culture and the materials they work with.”

Another nativity scene from Ecuador showcases intricate details as corn stalk and other plant materials are woven around each other to form the famous scene of Christ’s birth.

What’s special about each of these nativity scenes at the Arrowhead and Aerospace Museum, is that guests can get a feel for the culture that represented by each scene. Not only do each of these nativities represent Christmas in a different cultures, but by being brought to the museum, maybe the families were able to provide a Christmas for their children.

 

History of the nativity scene

The tradition of using figurines to represent the birth of Christ dates back centuries.

St. Francis of Assisi is widely credited with creating the first nativity scene in the Italian village of Grecio in 1223.

According to St. Bonaventure’s biography of St. Francis, Pope Honorious III granted St. Francis permission to set up a manger with a live ox and a donkey in a cave. Local villagers were then invited to view the display and celebrate the birth of Christ.

 

Local history year round

While the nativity scenes from around the world are the perfect addition to anyone’s holiday festivities, the museum offers many more historical details and exhibits.

As guests begin their tour through museum, they can see real Indian arrowheads and artifacts. As they progress through the museum, they are taken on a journey through time all while learning about significant people and locations right here in the Tullahoma and Manchester area. T

There museum’s permanent exhibits also include several miniature historical houses that are made to scale. Each one has doors and windows that open, and they are exact replicas of the original house they represent, just on a smaller scale, of course.

The museum has several running trains on display, many different cultural exhibits, several different exhibits that explain history from the Civil War era to the end of World War II, the history of the Tennessee Walking Horse, fashions, quilts and medicines that date back to the 1800s and an exhibit of Santa Clauses from around the world.

“I want everyone to come experience all the unique treasures we have here at the museum,” encouraged Worthington. “There is so much history to be explored, and I love to tell a story. So many people don’t know about all the unique things that happened right here in our area.”

The Arrowhead and Aerospace Museum is open every day except on Sunday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. The museum can open on Sunday by appointment only. Admission to the museum is $10 for adults, $5 for students, children aged 3 and 4 are $4 and children two and under are free. There are discounts available for military, senior citizens and groups. The museum is located at 24 Campground Road in Manchester.

For more information on the museum, call 931-841-7738. Information about the museum can also be found at www.cityofmanchestertn.com. For more information on Ten Thousand Villages, visit www.tenthousandvillages.com. For more information on Serrv, visit www.serrv.org.

Faith Few can be reached by email at ffew@tullahomanews.com.