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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. This time of year, you'll find Nativity scenes outside churches and in front yards across the country. They depict the birth of Jesus long ago in the town of Bethlehem. The sets also come in smaller indoor sizes for mantels and coffee tables. Some people even collect them. We found one collector with more than 1,400 different depictions of the Nativity. NPR's Jeff Brady has this profile from Bethlehem, the one in Pennsylvania.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: About one hour north of Philadelphia, Bethlehem may prompt visions of steel mills. But each December, it's a regional center for all that is Christmas. Margo Dixon retired here from Atlanta a few years back. She started collecting Nativity sets nearly five decades ago, but not for religious reasons.

MARGO DIXON: As a matter of fact, I'm really not a Christian. I'm Unitarian Universalist, but I don't declare myself to be a Christian.

BRADY: Dixon's hundreds of Nativity sets are stored in her house, downstairs.

DIXON: We're in the process of upgrading the basement a little bit so baby Jesus will be a little bit more comfortable down here.

BRADY: There are rows of shelves in her basement and plastic bins packed with Nativity sets.

DIXON: One is Waterford Crystal, which I bought in Ireland.

BRADY: There's a Hummel Nativity set, another that looks even more delicate. It's from Nigeria and made of banana fronds. And then she points to a nearby shelf.

DIXON: This is my rubber ducky Nativity.

BRADY: Some collectors prefer only sets that use humans to depict the Nativity, but not Dixon. She likes all the different ways artists choose to depict Jesus' birth. She picks up another one. It looks like a craft project made of coiled paper.

DIXON: The Holy Family are - have sequins around them. That's how you know they're important. Unfortunately, this little angel has lost her halo. I don't know where - I think it was lost before I got it. This was probably purchased for a quarter at a yard sale.

BRADY: Dixon can spend hours talking about her collection. Ask what motivates her, and this is the first answer.

DIXON: I love babies. Anybody who knows me knows I am a - just a sucker for babies. Any restaurant I walk through, if there's a baby in, I'm there.

BRADY: Press Dixon a bit more and you'll learn that the human story associated with the Nativity also intrigues her. Imagine, she says, a pregnant young woman alone.

DIXON: And who knows who the father was? And yet, there was a guy named Joseph, who stepped up to the plate and said, well, I don't care. I'm going to take care of you no matter what.

BRADY: But keep pressing and you'll learn that Dixon has a birth story of her own. She found love later than most of her peers.

DIXON: You know when I met Fred and I was 40 years old, I said, all I ever wanted in life was a baby, and he said, I'll give you a baby. And so, you know, that was very important to me that I was given a baby at a point in time when I thought I was beyond the pale, so to speak, in terms of babies.

BRADY: Now, she has two grown children. Her husband suffered a series of strokes a few years back and lives in a care facility. In retirement, she's launching a new phase in her life: creating a Nativity museum in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

DIXON: I'm 71 years old, and it's not going to happen if I just think about it.

BRADY: She's raising money, searching for a building and making big plans. She hopes to open the museum in time for Christmas three years from now. Jeff Brady, NPR News.

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