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5 Places of Christmas to include the world through display of Nativities

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The 2012 “5 Places of Christmas” in North Newton and Newton will multiply into many places, all over the world.

The Bethel College Women’s Association is sponsoring “Nativities Around the World” Dec. 1, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. in the Fine Arts Center.

The rest of the “5 Places of Christmas” are Kauffman Museum on the Bethel campus and, in Newton, Warkentin House (211 East First Street), Carriage Factory Gallery (128 East Sixth Street) and the Harvey County Historical Museum (203 North Main Street).

Nativities Around the World will be a display of at least 50 Nativity sets loaned by members of the Bethel College Women’s Association.

The group wanted to do something different for Christmas this year, said BCWA member Mary Enz, and “we wouldn’t have Christmas without the Nativity.”

Leann Toews of Goessel and Judy Schrag of Newton will be bringing part of their collections.

Schrag has at least 150 Nativity sets that she puts out every year at Christmas. Hers come from all over the United States as well as Kenya, other parts of Africa and Haiti.

The oldest she has is a paper one from 1936 that her husband Jim’s parents, Gertrude and Menno Schrag, gave her, although she won’t be bringing that because it’s too fragile, she said. However, she is planning to display about 25 of her Nativities, including a banana bark one the Schrags got in 1968 while teaching in Kenya.

Toews plans to bring about 15 sets from her collection – from the former Czechoslovakia, Honduras, Jerusalem, Mexico, Peru, Spain and Thailand, as well as the United States.

Many of the Nativity sets have stories to go with them.

One of Schrag’s nativities is made out of tin and aluminum cooking pans and utensils, created especially for her by a man she called “an Ohio farmer-craftsman, Mahlon Schmucker,” a member of Oak Grove Mennonite Church, where Jim Schrag was a pastor.

“[Mahlon] has done dozens of Bible stories, illustrated with things he found around his home or farm,” Judy Schrag said. “He knew I liked to bake.”

BCWA member Sharon Cranston, Newton, will display her plain white set, made by students at a school for the blind in Oklahoma.

“My mother gave it to me,” Cranston said, “and I’ve never wanted another one.”

The Nativities will be set up “around the circle” inside the Fine Arts Center, starting at the west door by the parking lot.

Also within the circle will be tables with baked goods, crafts and “homemade candy by the pound” (back by popular demand from last year) for sale, with all proceeds going to Bethel College.

BCWA will also be selling a brand-new Christmas recording, a two-CD set titled Nights of Wonder, with music by Bethel vocal and instrumental groups, recorded between 1979-99, the era of “Christmas Fest” on campus. Marles Preheim, North Newton, professor emeritus of music, organized the CD project.

“We’re going to set up the lounge outside the FAC Gallery,” said Enz, “with free coffee, as well as homemade cinnamon rolls for sale.”

Admission to all the “5 Places of Christmas” is free. There will be special features at each, Dec. 1 between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Bethel College is the only private college in Kansas listed in the 2012-13 analysis of premier colleges and universities in the United States and ranks in the top five “Best Baccalaureate Colleges” in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2012-13. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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