The First Noel
Nativity Collector Enjoy Connection to 'First Christmas'
by Rachel Smith
‘Tis the season for collectors. From Santa ornaments and snowmen statues to nutcrackers and even Yuletide dinnerware, Christmas-themed collections seem to appear almost everywhere this time of year. But while some collectors enjoy the hunt for their next limited-edition or anticipate the moment their collection is complete, Gonzales resident Mary Oubre has a different mindset. For this active 82-year old, her collection of nativities, displayed every holiday season, invokes memories of special loved ones and brings her closer to the true meaning of Christmas.
“I really didn’t start out to collect nativities. It just happened,” she said, adding that she received her first nativity as a thank-you gift. “I would help my (husband’s) Aunt Gertrude. They owned a furniture and appliance store. But they also had a gift section, and I just admired this nativity set. Actually, I fell in love with it, and one day she asked if I wanted it,” said Oubre.
That was in 1954, and Oubre and her husband, who were just newlyweds at that time, would later use this nativity set to celebrate their first Christmas together. Every year after, they would continue to display it, including when they started a family and welcomed their seven children. But through those years and as their children grew, so did Oubre’s nativity collection. Today she counts a total of 133 nativity scenes.
“I just love them,” she said, explaining the connection between the nativities and her Christian faith, and how each scene is a gentle reminder of Jesus’ birth and the moment “the Word became flesh.”
For Oubre, the connection actually goes way back, as she recalled an outdoor nativity set she made as a 10-year-old child. Among other creative tasks, oubre said she drew and painted cardboard portraits of the Holy Family, then decorated her homemade manger with lights.
“Our parish priest saw it as he drove by and mentioned this at Mass saying that this was the true meaning of Christmas. I was a proud little girl,” she said. Today, Oubre’s collection includes nativity scenes of all shapes and sizes. Some feature the Holy Family only while others highlight Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus as well as the three wise men, shepherds and farm animals. In addition, some scenes have a manger while others are etched on various objects, such as ornaments, cookie jars, wreaths, a cross, and even music boxes (and yes, at least one plays “O Little Town of Bethlehem”).
“They’re all different,” explained Oubre, pointing to nativity scenes made of pewter, resin, glass, porcelain, wood, chalk and even cornhusks.
Several weeks ago, Oubre received the newest addition to her collection. The ornament, showcasing an image of the nativity, was a gift from her cousin. “I receive so many from family and friends,” she admitted, adding that she also found several nativity scenes on her own by going to thrift stores.
Once Oubre acquires an addition to her collection, she tries to write information about how she obtained it on the bottom. She shared that she is most fond of that first set given to her more than 60 years ago by her first husband’s aunt, but she also holds dear special gifts from her children, including a Snoopy-inspired set
purchased by her son, Keith, a larger and more traditional set from her daughter, Alexis, and a portrait of the Holy Family another daughter, Joan, presented to mark Oubre’s 100th addition to her collection. “That one I leave up all year,” she said.
After Christmas this year, oubre plans to keep other nativity scenes on display as well. Since her collection is getting larger, she is finding it more difficult to take out and put away. Normally, she said, it takes one full day to do both, but this year was different. Oubre’s seven children came together to celebrate her recent birthday - a time to count her blessings.