By Doug Lowe
Couple collects nativities for 40 years, now number 243 displays
MANTI—Seen from the outside, the yard and home of Vatia and Wayne Jones, on the corner of Second South and Third East, has an attractive display of holiday lights that includes a large white star, high overhead, above strings of colorful lights that create the outline of Mary and baby Jesus, plus three wise men, and a shepherd with a lamb.
But, you haven’t seen anything until you go inside. For some twenty years now, holiday visitors who go inside the home have been treated to a truly amazing sight: a gigantic collection of nativity scenes, of every imaginable description, on display for all to see and enjoy.
As Vatia puts it, “I got into collecting nativities almost 40 years ago, when we lived in Mesa, Arizona.” At the time, Vatia was selling Avon products, and became one of her own customers by purchasing one of the company’s most beautiful seasonal offerings: a white porcelain nativity scene, consisting of a dozen or more pieces. That started it.
Each Christmas after that, for many years, whenever Avon offered different nativity figurines for sale during the holidays, their sales rep, Vatia, was a faithful customer. Before long, she and Wayne made it sort of a holiday ritual to set up her nativity collection for the family to enjoy. Eventually their enjoyment of the growing collection, spread beyond family and friends, as Vatia and Wayne began opening their Mesa home to other visitors who had somehow heard of the nativity collection on display inside.
When Wayne retired, they couple remained in Mesa “for something like three years,” as he puts it, before deciding to find someplace quieter and safer as home for their sunset years. Having family roots in Sanpete, with both her grandparents being natives who came from Sanpete pioneer stock, Vatia suggested to Wayne that they should check out the area. The rest is history—a 20 year history of happily living in Manti.
For all of those years, the couple have continued their Christmas Holiday tradition of setting up Vatia’s nativity collection around the house, and making the display—now of 243 items—available to one and all. According to Vatia, “It seems like men and boys like Santa’s Workshop, out back, the best, while women like the nativities here in the house.”
A quick peek at the enclosed sun porch, on the back of the house, which constitutes “Santa’s Workshop” easily, explains the difference in male and female preferences. Out back, most of the displays are lighted, activated Christmas items that blink, wink and move.
In contrast, not many of the nativity scenes on display inside are illuminated, and only one or two have any movement. But, those that do move are impressive, with shepherds bending and kneeling before baby Jesus in his straw-filled manger, and wise men turning toward the infant King of Kings.
Wayne reports that most of their visitors came from Manti or the surrounding towns, but that some have come from neighboring counties and even further away. “On visitor kept coming back night and night, bring friends from further and further away,” recalls Wayne. This will be their very last time holding such a holiday-long open house, Wayne says, but they plan to “keep everything on display until the first of January.”
With a sigh, Vitia says, “We are going to miss setting up all my collection and opening our house every Christmas.” Wayne adds, “It has become just too much work—even with our kids coming to town in order to help us.” This last year of holding their unusual holiday open house, Wayne and Vatia are asking, as usual, that prospective visitors call them in advance (at 835-9685) in order to make sure that they can be accommodated at the desired time on the desired day.