With 700 Nativities, it’s Christmas every day for Champaign woman

Barbara Rohr looks over the Nativities in just one of the curio cabinets in her rural Champaign home.

CHAMPAIGN — When city governments started to remove Nativity scenes from courthouses and public parks, citing the separation of church and state, Barbara Rohr went to work.

“It’s the reason for Christmas and why we celebrate,” said Rohr, a member of St. Boniface Parish in Seymour.

To make her point, Rohr has collected Nativities of every shape and size. They fill display cabinets in her hallway and dining room and most of the flat surfaces in her living room, which is now known as the “Christmas room.”

While she doesn’t have a Nativity scene for every municipality that no longer allows the religious display on its property, Rohr estimates that she has about 700. That includes more than 300 ornaments that hang on the Christmas tree in her dining room.

Her collection also includes things that she concedes others may not count, such as clothing (sweater, sweatshirts, jumper, tie and scarf), blankets, books, jewelry, a doily, a cross-stitched mantle cloth, plaques, stained glass, a candleholder and pictures. There’s even a jigsaw puzzle, although it has 1,000 pieces and Rohr acknowledges she may not get it done in time for this year’s celebration.

One Nativity is particularly sweet. Her dining room table has a platter with the manger scene made out of chocolate.

“I would say most I’ve probably bought, but a lot of them have been gifts, as well,” Rohr told The Catholic Post. “My family is afraid to buy anything anymore because they know I have so much variety.”

No matter what form the Nativity takes, she has one requirement.

“Jesus has to be there,” she said. “I have one that says ‘Lamb of God’ and all that is there is Jesus, but that’s OK.”

A close look reveals that some of the Josephs are missing, however, and an old Catholic custom is to blame.

“When some of my family members wanted to sell houses, I loaned them Joseph,” Rohr said. “The last time I loaned a Fontanini Joseph. . . . They never remembered where they buried it.”

Born and raised in the Champaign area, Rohr said Christmas was always a special time for her family and they always went home for the holiday.
“It was mainly just getting together with family,” she explained. “It was the main celebration.”

One of five children — she has three sisters and a brother — Rohr remembers going to Midnight Mass at Immaculate Conception Church in Bongard. Her great-grandfather helped to build the first church and even after she moved away from home, it was important to return.

Now Rohr and Jim, her husband of 38 years, attend the 4 p.m. vigil Mass on Christmas Eve at St. Boniface. They usually gather with his family, since his birthday is just a few days before Christmas.

As for the Nativities, the self-proclaimed “Christmas-type person” says it may be time for a change.

“I’m seriously considering after this year getting rid of some of them and cutting them down to what’s in the display cases,” Rohr said. I don’t have to have them lined up, so many, along the mantle. . . . I’m sure I’ll keep thousands.”

Having said that, she just bought a wood-carved, painted Nativity in November and is waiting for the Christ Child and manger, which had been sold, to arrive from Italy.

At the Rohr house it will remain “Christmas every day.”

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