Modesto Woman Showcases Her Collection of 800 Nativity Sets

MODESTO -- As families continue to decorate for Christmas, one Modesto woman is opening up her home so people can see her unique collection of nativity sets.

"Are you filming? Oh that was bad."

But there's nothing bad about Toni Conway's love for nativity sets, a love that started 56 years ago after she became a Christian and married her husband.

"December of '61 was my first real Christmas. I thought, 'Wow, this all means something. I want a nativity set,'" Conway said.

Her collection of nativities reached six when a nativity ornament was given to her for her 25th wedding anniversary.

"This is the birth of the collection, right here. And we've grown from number six to almost 800 in 31 more years," Conway said.

That's right, Conway now has 800 nativity sets and every other year, Conway spends a month setting up her home so hundreds of people can walk through and see her collection.

"After they've left, they feel the spirit of Christmas. I've actually had people leave in tears, thanking me for offering this kind of inspiration to them. That means that the joy I have in my heart is shared with others," Conway said.

The spiritual journey takes visitors around the world, with some sets made of Coke bottles, potatoes or even auto parts.

"Eight hundred different ways, different characters, different styles, different creative abilities to tell the one precious story that Jesus has come," Conway said.

Cowboys, pets and The Peanuts are also among the 800, but Conway says her favorite is the nativity scene featuring her children and grandchildren. Every nativity is clearly marked and recorder in her handmade encyclopedia, where she marks if it was a gift or one she bought.

"I tell everyone, 'No more nativities,' and 'I'm not going to buy any more unless they are very unique.' But I still added 50 this year," Conway said.

One of the newest additions is a millenial hipster portrayal, with Joseph taking a selfie and the three wise men sporting Segways and Amazon gifts.

"I did appreciate that Jesus was not changed at all in the nativity. Everything else is modern but Jesus is still the same," Conway said.

Conway says the nativity showcase is her calling to share Jesus with others, though she says her collection pales in comparison to others.

"My 800 is a drop in the bucket to other collectors. I know of a lady in Texas that has 3,000 nativities and she displays them in a huge warehouse all year long. I've got a ways to go," Conway said.

But, to Conway, it's not about the number, it's about the baby that always finds himself in the middle.

Conway's home is located at 3242 South Carpenter Road and is open Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. It is free to attend and refreshments are served.