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Nativity Collector Dreams Of Mangers And Museums

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Nativity displays are a Christmas staple in front of Christian churches and in people's yards. They depict the birth of Jesus long ago in the Middle East town of Bethlehem.

The sets also come in smaller sizes for mantels and coffee tables, and some people collect them. Margo Dixon says she has more than 1,450 different depictions of the Nativity. In 2010 she moved from Atlanta to Bethlehem, Pa., with a dream: to open a Nativity museum in the town that bills itself as the "Christmas City."

Dixon began collecting Nativity sets nearly five decades ago, but not for religious reasons.She says she's not a Christian.

"I'm Unitarian Universalist, but I don't declare myself to be a Christian," says Dixon.

In her basement there are rows of shelves holding plastic bins packed with Nativity sets.

"One is Waterford crystal, which I bought in Ireland," Dixon says. She also has a Hummel Nativity set and another that looks even more delicate. Dixon says it's from Nigeria and made of banana fronds.

Some collectors prefer only sets that use humans, but not Dixon. She likes all the different ways artists choose to depict Jesus' birth. That's why she has a Nativity comprising rubber ducks.

As for what fuels her hobby, Dixon says, "I love babies! Anybody who knows me knows I am just a sucker for babies. Any restaurant I walk through if there's a baby in it, I'm there!"

But press Dixon and bit more and you'll learn she has a birth story of her own. She found love later than most of her peers.

"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,' " Dixon says. "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," says Dixon.

Now her two children are grown. Dixon says her husband suffered a series of strokes a few years back and lives in a care facility. In retirement, she's pursuing her dream of creating that Nativity museum in Bethlehem, Pa.

"I'm 71 years old and it's not going to happen if I just think about it," she says. So Dixon is raising money, searching for a building and making big plans. She hopes to open the museum in time for Christmas three years from now.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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