The Marian Library at University of Dayton (Ohio), a Catholic, Marianist institution, boasts the world's largest repository of books, artwork and artifacts devoted to the Virgin Mary. Among the library’s many treasures is a collection of thousands of handcrafted nativity sets from around the world.
Throughout the year, Marian Library volunteers design themed displays for four exhibit areas in the university’s main library. The exhibits open the Saturday after Thanksgiving with a free, family-friendly Grand Open House and remain open through late January.
In this post, I’ll share the top five features of the annual At the Manger Grand Open House.
- The themes. Every year a new, engaging theme is curated by Rev. Johann Roten, S.M., the Marian Library’s director of research and special projects. My favorite theme from years ago is "And Animals There Were " which showcased the rich diversity of animal life represented in manger scenes from around the world. An Australian set featured a kangaroo, a koala and a kookaburra, while monkeys and jaguars were featured in South American nativities.
- The children’s activities. Library staff organize children’s crafts related to the theme. Each year, we print photos of the nativities for Christmas cards and design coloring pages of the manger scenes; this year we’re busting out the button maker. For the “And Animals Were There” theme, our face painter transformed children’s faces into animals of their choice. Children could make headbands of their favorite animal ears or mold animals from clay to take home.
- Local entertainment. We invite singing groups to perform for a portion of the event. This makes the event truly festive. We also promote the fact that we’ll show the Ohio State vs. Michigan football game on the TVs in our instruction classroom, just in case people want to check in on this very important game for Ohioans.
- Seek and find. This activity, a favorite for children and adults, challenges visitors to find specific pieces within certain nativity sets. One of my favorite memories from the Grand Open House was when two college-aged siblings were playfully blocking each other from completing the brochure before the other. The competition level is extremely high because there are fabulous prizes involved (Stickers! Bracelets! Bookmarks!).
- Diversity of the nativities. There’s always something new to see, and the themes showcase the diversity of Christmas traditions throughout the world. I love reading the description of each set to find out the country of origin and what some of the aesthetics, symbols or features signify. The volunteers do a wonderful job building the sets, stables and display cases so the nativities truly shine.
After celebrating Thanksgiving and maybe doing some Black Friday shopping, many families in the Dayton area have made the At the Manger Grand Open House a beloved tradition. We typically see 500 to 800 people on this day alone. Our aim is to continue this event as our gift to the community.
Are you interested? The 2015 Grand Open House  and opening of five all-new themed exhibits is from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 28, in Roesch Library. You can also watch highlights of our 2012 Grand Open House in this YouTube video . For more information on the Marian Library, visit the website .