GUILFORD — If you are overwhelmed by the crass commercialism that has overtaken the holiday season, a trip to see Shirley Squires' 1,500 nativity sets in her home might be just what you need.
She has been collecting nativity sets since 1993 and, as the collection grew, in 1997 she decided to share it with anyone with an interest in visiting.
As the years have passed, Squires, 90, has given up most of her living spaces to the Christmas displays. The only traditionally functional areas of her home are the kitchen and a small area in the living room where she has a day bed.
She spends time every year preparing for visitors, and her family and friends help her during the busy visitor season. Most years, 250 to 300 people come to see the nativities on display.
Squires takes a great deal of pleasure in hosting the students from St. Michael Catholic School in Brattleboro, who come in small groups around Christmas. The school has donated a nativity set from its collection to Squires and also made one specifically for her.
Simply walking from room to room and into the separate space her son built to house the growing collection is a total immersion in the world of Christmas, and it is also a chance to hear her describe how different sets have found their way to the space.
Squires explained that she started collecting nativity sets after the death of her son, State Rep. Ron Squires, in 1993 and husband, Maynard, in 1991 to keep her mind occupied.
What started out as a form of self-help for the soul has now become nourishment for the soul of anyone who would like to experience a different type of Christmas immersion.
“To me, Christmas is the birth of Jesus,” Squires told The Commons in 2009. “I've had other collections, but they simply didn't mean anything to me.”