Lucinda Butler
Lucinda Butler shows some of her nativity scene collections at her home, including figures that her grandmother owned, and some that her husband had bought for his mother when he was young.

When Lucinda “Cindy” Butler was a little girl, her grandmother and her mother each gave her an ornament every Christmas.

One particular favorite was a miniature nativity scene. Butler’s sister added to the crèche collection by giving Butler a collection made by the Italian company Fontanini, one piece at a time.

“I got the holy family first, then camels, kings and different people in the village,” Butler said, sitting at a table in her Billings home.

Over the years Butler continued to add to her collection of nativities and now has more than 200. The public will have the opportunity to see them Dec. 5 at a show at Mayflower Congregational Church of Christ titled “No Room at the Inn.”

The showing is free, but money collected from a freewill offering will go toward Habitat for Humanity and the Interfaith Hospitality Network. The IHN assists homeless families and Habitat helps families acquire homes of their own.

Butler got the idea for the show a number of years ago from a relative of her husband. Steve Butler’s cousin, Nora Howells, and her husband, Huw, came up with the idea to share their many crèches with others.

They considered putting on a show and then sharing profits with the homeless in Ventura County, Calif., where they live, Butler said. But Huw Howells died of cancer before the idea could become a reality.

Nora Howells honored her husband’s memory by going ahead with the idea, with help from a friend, and proceeds went to help homeless shelters in the area. The event continues to this day and has spread to other states, Butler said.

This is the seventh year Butler is organizing “No Room at the Inn” at Mayflower, at the corner of Rehberg Lane and Poly Drive. It will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., in conjunction with the church’s annual Christmas bazaar.

Butler welcomes others who want to display their crèches at the church.

Butler has 25 boxes filled with nativities.

“I’ve been going toward smaller ones because they’re easier to pack,” she said.

Some of the larger pieces belong to a collection of Goebel figurines that her husband bought for his mother and the couple now own.

Butler enjoys seeing how different artists and different cultures interpret the story of the birth of the Christ child. One of her favorites was done closer to home, by her daughter, Megan, an adult now, who created it out of clay when she was 5 years old.

There’s a nativity quilted wall hanging, made by the women of Mayflower, where the Butlers are members. Butler found a wooden crèche at Goodwill.

 “I get a lot of them from thrift stores,” Butler said. “All year round I keep my eye out for them, and I go to a lot of estate sales.”

Many of them will be on display for visitors to enjoy. And they will be a reminder, Butler said, that families today still struggle with the problem of finding a place at night to lay their heads.

Contact Susan Olp at solp@billingsgazette.com or 657-1281.

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