As many families decorate their Christmas trees and set up their Nativity scenes underneath, Father Roy Herberger will be unboxing nearly 600 different versions of Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus at his parish, SS. Columba & Brigid Church in Buffalo.
The nativity sets will be displayed to the public throughout Advent, 1 to 4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday through Jan. 15, except for Christmas weekend. Father Herberger will also schedule off-hours tours for groups to see his collection. Viewing the nativity sets is free, but donations will be accepted.
Father Herberger began collecting Nativity sets about 30 years ago when he attended a religious education convention in Baltimore. He noticed a vendor selling a set made out of hand-carved ebony and purchased it. His initial fascination led to a hobby.
After growing up with many European depictions of the Nativity, Father Herberger was struck with not only many of the different cultural elements on display with these sets, but the different materials they were made from. He looked to Asia, South America and Africa for more sets. Some Nativity scenes were even made from items like used automobile parts, soda cans and newspapers.
"It struck me to see a different culture expressing the Nativity," he said. "It was one of those things I found fascinating. The material that people used (was unique), because you're talking about some little village in an underdeveloped country."
Father Herberger just purchased 10 new sets this year. Some of the scenes show the figures as animals like reindeer or dogs. He notes that people can observe and enjoy the Nativity scenes through different spectrums.
"This is not (meant) to be sacrilegious," he said. "People can come from the spiritual standpoint or the artistic standpoint. Nobody is trying to say the Holy Family looked like that, but it's just saying that nature in all of creation gives praise to God."
Father Herberger then quoted Psalm 8:8: "The birds in the air, the fish in the sea, all you animals wild and tame."
With Father Herberger set to retire in August 2017, he's currently looking for someone to take over curating his collection in the future. While he's received offers from other states, he hopes to keep it with someone local but with the ability to display the entire collection during Christmas.
"It's something we can be proud to have here," he said. "I can't take all this with me, (and) I can't imagine the pastor who comes after me wants this kind of responsibility."
Father Herberger is also looking to commission an artist to paint a portrait of the Nativity, based on what a real Jewish family would look like from that time period. He hopes to display it along with the collection.
If you are interested in scheduling an off-hours tour, or to acquire the nativity collection, contact Father Herberger at 716-852-2076.