Holiday Traditions: Plant City church has 300+ nativity scenes on display

PLANT CITY, Fla. (WFLA) — It’s one of the most common symbols of Christmas, the nativity scene complete with Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.

Retired priest, Father Henry Riffle has quite the collection. Displayed inside St. Clements Catholic Church are nearly 350 nativity scenes.

“The nativity scene was always special to our celebration of Christmas when we were growing up in my family,” said Riffle.

In fact, the nativity has such a special place in his heart that he started collecting them. It wasn’t until the 1980s that he got serious about his collecting. That is when he decided to stop smoking.

“I used the money I saved from buying cigarettes and cigars. One-third went to savings, one-third went to the poor, and one-third went to buying more nativity sets,” he said.

Soon, other people in his church started gifting him with sets after they found out about his love for them.

“One man was literally on his death bed, so he said, “I want Henry to have my collection of American Indian nativities,” he said.

They come from all over the world.

“I have some from France, Germany, India, Argentina, Africa.   They each have a story, and he can tell you each and every one.”

A pink nativity set, for instance, was a gift from a breast cancer survivor. Riffle said she took pottery classes while she was getting treatment and made it for him.

His favorite, though, is one that represents more than the birth of Jesus.

“The unique thing with this artist, he saw the cave of the birth and the tomb of the resurection,” he said as he spun it around.

He even has a kids’ corner that has Charlie Brown nativities, animals dressed as Mary and Joseph, and a little bear cub Jesus.

But, his joy each season comes from the message behind each set.

“To me, the gifts that I have received with the stories that go with them is just that people what to share the love of Christ with each other.”

If you would like to schedule a tour, call St. Clements Catholic Church in Plant City. The church is located at 1104 N Alexander St., (813) 752-8251

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