When Ahwatukee Foothills resident Pat Carl set out four small nativities on an empty shelf in the mid ‘80s, she had no idea what she was starting.

“I had an empty shelf that wasn’t very big and didn’t have anything on it so I set the four little nativities on the shelf,” she said. “Someone came in and said ‘I didn’t know you collect little nativities,’ and it was off and running.”

Today Carl has more than 100 small nativity scenes from about 15 countries. She estimates 80 percent of her collection were gifts from friends, 15 percent were bought while she and her husband were traveling and 5 percent she just found close to home and purchased herself.

“People seem to be fascinated by it enough that they buy me more,” she said. “I love the fact that so many of them were gifts and I know which ones are which. It makes me know that someone thought of me.”

Carl said she usually brings the collection out around Thanksgiving and leaves them up in her living room through January. Today the collection takes up six shelves, organized by material or origin, but they all store neatly in two boxes when the season is over.

“I really enjoy looking at them,” she said. “I look at them and think about where we were when we got that one, who brought it to me and where they came from. It’s fun to do.”

Several of the nativities are rare or were only made for one year. Carl said she doesn’t research them but often people will have done some research before they give them to her. They range in size from about five inches tall to one no bigger than a thumbnail. Carl’s favorites are the smallest ones with the most detail or the handmade ones she’s gotten from close friends.

The house is also decorated with Santas and reindeer and lights outside but Carl said her favorite part of the holiday is looking at her nativities and remembering what the season is all about.

“I really feel they make me very humble,” she said.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com.

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