SANGER — Denton County residents can look no farther than Sanger to get in the spirit of Christmas this year. Bethlehem in Denton County, with a collection of 3,000 manger scenes and nativity-related items, doubled in size this summer and is welcoming holiday visitors.
This private collection, which has been open to the public for 14 years, is on a small private farm outside Sanger. The “mangermaid,” Judy Klein, opens the gallery to visitors on nights and weekends.
This summer, Klein enlarged Bethlehem’s quarters, taking the “manger” from 750 square feet to 1,418 square feet with the addition of a second building. The expansion allowed her to add “a couple of hundred” more nativities and to better display the collection.
“There’s a lot to take in,” Klein says. “You should allow at least an hour to see it.”
That may be an understatement.
Bethlehem in Denton County features five Christmas trees — the largest festooned with approximately 700 nativity ornaments. There is a Majesty Tree with all brass or gold ornaments, a Tree of Light with clear decorations, a tree trimmed with all wooden ornaments and a tree of large ball ornaments.
One wall holds an assortment of 50-plus nativity plates and shelves showcase Christmas bells. Featured throughout the gallery are displays of special nativities — one manger scene features figures made of ash from St. Helena’s, another is made from parts of oil drums. Whimsical figures — the Peanuts gang and a family of polar bears, for example — are also included.
People in third-world countries have proven to be exceptionally resourceful in their use of materials, Klein says. Some of the crèches are made of banana bark or native woods, but the collection also features “collectible” nativities by Precious Moments, Thomas Kincaid, Jim Shore, Fontanini, Lladro, DeGrazia and more.
Shelf labels with maps identify the part of the world where each nativity originated, and Klein carefully crafts settings for each scene. Black napkin rings became “pots” for the bonsai trees which decorate an oriental crèche. A checkered flag is the base for a nativity made of auto parts.
“I try little things ‘til they work,” Klein says.
The museum is open by appointment only. Admission is free, and groups of up to eight to 10 people can be accommodated at one time. To schedule an appointment, contact Judy Klein at 940-231-4520 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. The website is www.bethlehemindentoncocom.