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900 nativity sets from around the world on display at rural home
Nativity home
Toni Conway at her 2015 display of Nativity sets held at her house west of Ceres (Journal file photo).

Toni Conway is opening up her rural home west of Ceres to showcase what is likely the largest privately-owned collection of nativity sets in the country.

More than 900 nativity sets from all over the world will be on display at Toni Conway’s “Nativity Open House.” The free event will be held Dec. 9-11 at 3242 S. Carpenter Road, Modesto. Friday and Saturday hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday hours are from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. There is no admission charge and refreshments are served. Voluntary donations will benefit the Modesto Gospel Mission.

The biennial showcase returns after a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic. Nearly 40 new nativity sets have been added to Conway’s collection since her last open house in 2019. Included in the additions is a porcelain crafted pottery Nativity that Conway found while visiting West Cork, Ireland in 2022.

Another new addition is a nativity sculpted from a fossilized walrus jawbone, acquired in Alaska in summer 2022. The collection additions also include a mariachi band nativity designed and carved in Guatemala; a one-of-kind nativity handmade from nuts and bolts; and a 3-D laser cut Baltic birch nativity.

“This is my ministry,” said Conway, 79.

She has been displaying her collection since 1996 when 200 visitors viewed the 167 nativity sets in her collection at the time. Since then the collection has grown by the hundreds since, as has the event’s attendance. Pre-COVID open house attendance topped 1,000 guests.

Open house preparations began in October with three part-time people, plus Conway. The team spent five weeks transforming every room of the Conway home, even the bathrooms, into a nativity museum. Nativities will also be displayed in a detached showroom and the two-car garage.

After Jan. 1, the team will dissemble the collection, prepare it for storage for the next two years and convert the temporary museum back to the Conway’s residence.

“I invite everyone to spread the word, bring friends and share the event with others,” said Conway. “All ages are welcome to enjoy the true meaning of Christmas.”

During the public open house weekends, Conway also welcomes church groups, service clubs, bus tours and others but requests that groups of 20 or more schedule their open house visit in advance. To schedule a group tour, visit for contact information.

The Conway’s country residence provides ample space for bus parking.

Conway is more than a local nativity enthusiastic. She also shares her knowledge and love for nativities at the national level. Conway serves as the treasurer of the Friends of the Creche, a national society dedicated to the artistry, display and traditions of the Christmas Nativity.

Toni and Bob Conway bought their first nativity scene when they were married 54 years ago. The 1997 death of her mother fueled a passion to collect more sets. After Frances Skittone was diagnosed in 1996 with ovarian cancer that went into remission for a short time, Toni relented into her suggestions to share the collection with the public, a tradition that has repeated itself every other year.

The Conway home is located on Carpenter Road between Whitmore and Service roads — near the intersection of Carpenter and Hackett. For the driveway entrance, look for the Valley Harvest Nut sign or the American flagpole and Nativity Open House welcome sign.