GILLETTE, Wyoming — For many people, 2020 has cranked out nothing but a seemingly endless list of heartache and frustration for many reasons ranging from the COVID-19 pandemic to recent elections.
But there is one saving grace — the holiday season is here.
Many folks have started getting into the festive spirit by decorating their homes or businesses for Christmas, and for Garey Herman that means showing off his collection of more than 50 nativity scenes.
He admits he is doing it to attract people to his business, Herman’s Antiques and Furniture Restorations, but the nativity scenes mean more than just serving as a draw to bring people in for holiday shopping.
St. Francis of Assisi is credited with staging the first nativity scene in 1223 depicting the birth of Jesus Christ. The exhibit shows baby Jesus, his mother Mary, her husband Joseph and the other Biblical characters featuring shepherds, sheep and angels, along with the three wise men who surround Jesus inside a manger.
Gillette resident Travis Iverson’s father used to make hand-carved nativity sets until he passed away a few years ago, the Gillette News Record reported.
“When I see those now, I think of him and those nativity scenes he carved,” Iverson said while looking at Herman’s collection with his 4-year-old son, Lincoln.
The Iversons recently stopped by to see Herman’s nativity scene collection, which is spread out atop a piano and on numerous shelves and tables inside rooms upstairs where Crazy Woman Mercantile and Herman’s Antiques and Furniture Restoration are located.
“Are you ready for Christmas?” Travis asked.
“Yeah,” Lincoln replied.
That is the crux of why Herman chose to display his extensive nativity collection.
“It’s about Christianity, the birth of Christ,” he said. “It’s coming up pretty soon, 2,020 years ago.”
‘A weekend of labor’
Herman started collecting nativity scenes about 20 years ago. He’s picked them up over the years from different places, including an 80-year-old set he got in Sparks, Nevada.
His wife Ann passed away almost two years ago, but over the years she quietly added to the collection on her own. When Garey unpacked some boxes recently he found nativity sets he said he did not know about.
“I didn’t know what was in there,” he said.
Herman has the scenes displayed upstairs in the shop he shares with Crazy Woman Mercantile owner Vernetta Yantes. In April, Yantes moved her business from next door to First Interstate Bank on Gillette Avenue to next to Herman’s businesses.
“With Vernetta down here with her store we’re just trying to make people come out,” he said. “They can take a look at (the nativity sets) up here too.”
Herman credits Yantes for helping set up the collection.
“A weekend of labor,” Herman said.
“And a lot of Styrofoam” Yantes added.
“What good are they going to do in boxes? We might as well bring them out and let everyone look at them,” Yantes said, adding that it took a couple of days to set up the collection. “I had a feel for where I thought I want them to be.”
‘Everything is going to be OK’
The collection includes an egg stacking set and a scene made out of Delft pottery from Holland with a manger Herman built out of plywood and painted blue. On a dining room table is a puzzle of a nativity scene Herman has been working on for the past few weeks.
One of Yantes’s favorite scenes is from the Jacqueline Kent collection that Herman bought at a garage sale that now sits on a piano where all the figures are looking up at the Star of Bethlehem, aka the Christmas Star.
“He has quite a collection,” she said, adding “how can you love one and not all of them?”
“I have not seen so many sets in a collection,” said Jazmin Cody during a recent visit. “I think it’s interesting to see the different styles. They are unique.”
People can come in and look at the nativity scenes, enjoy the holiday season “and know that everything is going to be OK sooner or later,” Yantes said.
“Everything is kind of being shut down for the holidays. We’re trying to keep it open somehow,” Herman said.
The nativity scenes will remain on display through early January.
“This year I’ve had emotions I never thought I had before (with) lockdowns, not having social gatherings,” Iverson said. “With everything going on right now, all the uncertainty in the world, they draw me closer to God.
“We’re ready for the holidays. We’re ready to celebrate Christ.”