Pam Rainey: Symbols of the first Noel

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Judy Klein looks over the visitors’ register at Bethlehem in Denton County, the small museum of nearly 3,000 nativity scenes on her property near Sanger. Guests can make an appointment to view the collection.

Nativity collection celebrates holiday beauty for couple

At Christmas time, we often see the talents of artisans displayed. Sometimes it is in beautifully crafted stockings that go to the hospitals, all made by the loving hands of grandmothers to welcome new babies during the holidays. Or crocheted caps and gloves to warm children who need clothing.

I recently received a beautiful Santa Claus designed and handmade by Joyce Fuller, who lives north of Denton. Beautifully handcrafted ornaments from all over the world adorn Mr. Claus’ attire and the stocking thrown over his shoulder. I cherish him, and he holds a place of pride in my living room year round.

Judy Klein of Denton County began collecting creches and manger scenes more than 35 years ago. She displayed many of them in every room of her and her husband’s farm home, also just north of Denton. Many were packed away as her collection grew.

“When friends and family learned of my collection, I received manger scenes for every occasion,” Klein said.

She made an inventory of every nativity so she could keep up with them before deciding which to display and which to pack away.

They were made all over the world — Russia, Alaska, Hawaii, Austria, El Salvador, Colombia, Switzerland, Germany and elsewhere. They come in different forms: lighted, musical, turning, talking, huggable, serious, whimsical and in the form of a puzzle. Some sit there and do nothing.

Some have kings and shepherds, and some have angels. There are bears and mice. There are snowmen. Some are multipurpose, made as candles, mugs, plates, spoons, stockings and tree skirts.

The collection outgrew their home and quickly became items to be dusted as well as adored.

Klein’s husband Monroe is retired, but won’t let a speck of dust rest under his feet. In 1999, Monroe Klein presented an idea to his wife that delighted her.

He proposed that he put his University of North Texas industrial technology degree to work by building a room onto their farm to house her collection. That way, he said, she would be able to share the collection with the public year round.

She was thrilled to watch him design a building — an 18-by-30-foot gallery — that they named Bethlehem of Denton County. There, all the nativities could be properly displayed and stored year-round.

Monroe didn’t just build a building. He made something special. He added doors of leaded glass and hung with stained glass. He put sun catchers in each panel of the garden door. The building is heated and cooled for enjoyment in all seasons and for the protection of the collection.

Soon the nativities that had been packed away came out for display.

“I inherited my mother’s collection of over 300 nativities,” Judy Klein said. “So one corner of the room is ‘Mimi’s Corner,’ because it is one of my favorite areas of the gallery.”

A large tree stands before the window, by the main door, and 800 nativity ornaments are displayed. Two smaller trees are themed by color. One tree is decorated only with gold and brass ornaments and covered with fine golden angel hair shimmering in the lights. It is topped with a golden crown for the King of Kings.

“The golden color represents the majesty of the Lord.” Klein said.

The other tree is 4 feet tall, decorated with crystal and spun-glass ornaments and wisps of silvery angel hair.

“The white look of the clear lights represents the purity of our Lord,” she said.

Denton County is rich in tradition, rich in history and rich in the arts of many forms. The Denton Record-Chronicle will have listings of opportunities for you and your family to consider if you plan to be in town for the holidays.

Should you want to visit Bethlehem in Denton County, the website is or call Judy at 940-231-4520. She is willing to make an appointment for your group for a group of less than 10 and will accommodate visits during daytime, evenings or weekends.

PAM RAINEY is a longtime Denton resident and a real estate agent who has helped many seniors make decisions about living arrangements. You can reach her with suggestions at or 940-367-1188.

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