Local woman showcases nativity scenes from the world

Showcasing the true meaning of Christmas

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GUILFORD — Students from Saint Michael Catholic School take a trip to Shirley Squires home once a year to see her famous Nativity scene collection.

Jennifer Kelliher, a parent volunteer who chaperones every year, said that, for many students, it's like coming home.

"Shirley is family," she said.

Squires has been collecting Nativity scenes since 1994. She said it gave her something to do in a time of grief. In 1992, her husband died and a year later one of her sons died of AIDS. Squires said she's always liked Christmas and it's more to her than just Santa Claus; she's always resonated with the story of Jesus' birth.

During the holiday season, every inch of Squires' home seems to be filled with Nativity scenes. The scenes come from all over the world — Germany, Italy, Ireland, the West Bank Jerusalem and Mexico. Friends and family frequently gift them to her. Some are made of different materials such as glass, porcelain, plastic and metal. Some have a unique spin on the Nativity story. One is depicted by animals. Squires wondered at first if it was sacrilegious to have animals playing out the roles of Mary, Joseph and, of course, baby Jesus, until a friend explained that the animals were just putting on a pageant because they, too, wanted to celebrate Jesus' birth.

Another one features Santa setting up his own Nativity scene. There are multiple where the characters have different skin colors, depending on where the scene is from. Squires particularly likes some of the newer scenes that feature Mary being pregnant, which is something that she said wasn't seen in older Nativity scenes. One of her favorite sets even shows Joseph holding the baby. She said sets such as these show how much the world has changed.

Walking through Squires' home, her family's presence is noticeable. In her living room, on the walls not featuring Nativity scenes, are photos of her parents, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Squires admits that she doesn't put up her collection by herself. Her children frequently help her set up the Nativity scenes, they put batteries in her collection of singing animals, and they continue to gift her with new Nativity scenes.

In her guest bedroom, Squires has a blanket hung on to the wall with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren photoshopped onto it playing different Nativity characters. She beamed with pride as she explained who each person was, their different roles and how much hard work it took for her family to make and send her.

But Squires' family extends beyond blood. Children from Saint Michael School frequently come to her house to help her set up. Her friend, Lynda Starorypinskid, also helps set up the collection every year.

Starorypinskid said people come to Squires' aid because she helps so many.

"She's such a giving person," she said. And the Nativity scenes are a part of that generosity.

"It's beautiful, her dedication," Starorypinskid said. "There's so much work that goes into setting that up."

Each of the more than 1,400 scenes has a separate placard with the scene's name and where it's from. Squires has one from Saint Michael and one from Starorypinskid. Her largest scene is the Fontanini Heirloom Nativity set, which almost takes up her entire bedroom. Squires tries to section it out in a realistic manner. She has the village where the manger is located, a section of angels and warriors, a section for workers like the blacksmith, and different Marys and Josephs traveling to the manger. The village is placed in sand with a wooden fence surrounding it. When children come to visit she lets them play with the set because the pieces are hard to break and she likes the marks they make in the sand.

"It makes it look more realistic, like the animals are actually moving," she said.

The Fontanini set is also special because each piece comes with a card giving the character a biblical name and telling a story. Squires keeps all the cards in a special album.

Squires said that while she isn't overly religious, she does enjoy going to church each Sunday, and it's important to remember the true meaning of Christmas. She describes the nativity story as joyous, but also kind of serious in a way stories about Santa Clause aren't.

This is one of the reasons people like Kelliher come back to see Squires' collection every year.

"I think it's really been neat for our students," she said. "It's something they genuinely look forward too. She's just so welcoming and she has a story behind every set."

To Kelliher, Squires showcases the true meaning of Christmas in more ways than one. Beyond her many depictions of Jesus' birth, Squires reminds everyone of generosity and love.

To see Squires' nativity collection for yourself call her at 802-254-2696 and schedule an appointment.

Harmony Birch can be reached at hbirch@reformer.com, at

@Birchharmony on Twitter and 802-254-2311, Ext. 153.

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