CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A glance around the first floor of Pat and Joe Norohna's home leaves no doubt about what Christmas means to them. Nativity sets in a tremendous variety of styles and sizes cover every surface.
The Norohnas are natives of India and grew up in a section of the country heavily populated by Catholics. There, the Christmas Eve custom is to attend an outdoor midnight Mass, then return home where families reverently place the baby Jesus in Nativity scenes that sit in front of most homes.
"I'm crazy about Nativity scenes. Where I grew up, in Mangalore, Christmas isn't about presents. Nativity scenes are so special there," she said.
Her brothers built a stone grotto to house their family's Nativity scene. Each year, they throw sprouted lentils on the ground to resemble grass and place the sheep figurines on them to "graze."
Most Indian Catholics also display a star of Bethlehem on their homes. Pat's brothers fashioned her family's star each year from bamboo. "Now they are all made in China. It's so sad. Nobody has time to make them anymore," she said.
Pat and Joe married in 1979 and were living in Florida when she began collecting the Nativity sets that reminded her so much of home. Today she has about 120 Nativity sets from countries all over the world. They're made from wood, clay, stained glass, resin, mud, porcelain, crystal, pewter and even cornhusks.
They sit inside pinecones, seashells, an apple, a cross, a Christmas tree and a matchbox, as well as in glass and crystal cases and traditional wooden stables and sit in four first-floor rooms of their house. "It's hard to find places to put them so they don't look crowded."
A twinkling Christmas tree includes about 15 Nativity ornaments including one carved in olive wood from the Holy Land. The brightly decorated tree contrasts with the simpler tradition in her hometown in which people cut a single branch of pine and hang homemade ornaments on it.
Pat seeks the sets whenever she travels and names Italy, India, Mexico and the Bahamas among the countries represented. Sets from Assisi, Alaska, Chile, Brazil and "good old West Virginia" reside on the top of a piano. "We love West Virginia, so of course I wanted some from here," she said.
Friends, family and neighbors gave her others. She treasures sets given by the students she daily tutors in math, even if the sets she displays in the dining room where they work on lessons sometimes prove distracting.
"The students want to look closely at them. I tell them we'll set aside a few minutes at the end of the session to look at them," she said. "The ones given by students are so special. I think of them when I put them out each year."
A coffee table in the living room holds others with sentimental meaning, all given to Pat by Joe, her three children or close family members. One is a set beautifully wrought in pewter that Joe found on a trip to Malaysia and purchased as a surprise for Pat.