Kane County History: 18th Century Creche a Geneva Holiday Tradition

Kane County History: 18th Century Creche a Geneva Holiday Tradition

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was submitted by Terry Emma, executive director of the Geneva History Museum.

One of the most popular traditions of the holiday season in Geneva is viewing the Crèche, or manger scene, at the Geneva History Museum.

One of the Créche figures.

The 18th century Neapolitan Crèche is displayed in the same 17th century French provincial corner bed in which it was displayed at The Little Traveler as early as 1930.

Kate Raftery, proprietor of The Little Traveler, acquired the incredible collection of figures constructed of terra-cotta, wood, wire and fiber, while traveling Europe and created a holiday tradition for Geneva’s community centered around the display.

The Crèche was originally displayed among antiques and silver in The Little Traveler’s opulent Court Room. On the Monday before Christmas, the display was opened to the public where visitors and shoppers enjoyed carols, cider and hot chocolate.

The Little Traveler antique room with the Créche display, circa 1950s.

Luncheon tables were set around the display and many Genevans made an annual tradition of having lunch dates around the Crèche.

The capstone of this holiday tradition was a Christmas Eve celebration as an extension of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, where the Rafterys were members. It was custom, at that time, for members of the church to gather around the Crèche for cookies, cocoa and caroling.

From there, members of the church would proceed with the children to the nave of the church for an annual Holiday pageant.

Créche figure with terra cotta head and arms sewn to hemp wrapped wired body.

The Little Traveler continued to display the Crèche at Christmas through the mid 1970s. With many renovations taking place, the Créche was placed in storage and a holiday tradition soon became forgotten.

Years later, owners of The Little Traveler, Mike Simon and Alvin Rosenthal, generously donated this historic Crèche to the Geneva History Museum. The museum is delighted to carry on the holiday tradition of exhibiting the Nativity scene in the corner bed during the holiday season.

Visitors can explore the hidden symbolisms in this nativity scene in this 18th century time period.

Along with our Créche each holiday season, the museum hosts Geneva Giving Trees where local nonprofits decorate trees with their mission in mind.

The Créche display at The Little Traveler, circa 1940s.

The community is invited to vote for their favorite trees with their dollars at the museum and at GenevaHistoryMuseum.org until 4 p.m. Dec. 22.

The organization that receives the most votes for the tree takes home all of their winnings. The others share their votes 50/50 with the Geneva History Museum.

The museum also offers an opportunity to pose in an antique sleigh for your holiday photo — starting at Geneva’s Christmas Walk until 9 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 7, and through the rest of the holiday season.

The Geneva History Museum is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. In honor of our “Diamond” anniversary, State Street Jewelers created a custom diamond necklace with a “G” adjustable tag that can be won in a drawing. The necklace is valued at $4,000.

Tickets can be purchased at the museum for $25/each or five for $100. The drawing will take place at the Créche Merry Mixer Cocktail party fundraiser on Thursday, Dec. 13. The winner does not need to be present but we hope you can join us.

Enjoy appetizers, music and raffle prizes at this Cocktail Party Fundraiser for the restoration of our magnificent 18th Century Nativity.  Reservations include appetizers, and one drink ticket — ($5 each for more).  Reservations $35/person, $30/museum members.

The Geneva History Museum’s annual Giving Trees display.

Read The Kane County History Series!