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Miniature Bethlehem brings smiles to White Sands

It really is the “little” town of Bethlehem.

Recreating Biblical scenes in miniature from Christ’s birthplace has been White Sands’ resident Irma Shobring’s Yuletide gift to the La Jolla retirement community for the past 10 years.

“We’ve (White Sands) always had a Christmas card table and we’ve always felt this was our Christmas card to people,” said Shobring, about the annual Christmas project she and her late husband Paul have put their hearts and souls into.

Paul died earlier this year and there was some doubt the family tradition would continue.

“I thought, ‘I just won’t do it this year,’ ” said Irma. “Then I thought, ‘No, this is a tribute to him and a gift to the residents here.”

The miniature rendering began modestly a decade ago.

“It started as just the nativity,” said Irma. Then I thought, ‘It would be nice to have an inn ... some outbuildings ... some workmen — it just grew.”

The diminutive Bethlehem has 137 figurines, everything from babies to merchants and bakers, and almost as many animals — a veritable zoo of camels, sheep, goats, cats, even one elephant.

Everything in the ancient metropolis is so lifelike — and so detailed. A mini merchant’s cart offers pumpkins selling for two shekels. There’s a king’s encampment with a banquet of food on the tables. Another section of town has a pond with a working pump. Nightlights inside buildings mimic fires adding to the realism of the scene.

Romans in the town have disembarked from their chariots to read proclamations while townspeople and musicians parade. Figs are being picked in one section of town, olives in another. There is a commonality throughout all of the village: Everything is peaceful.

Baby Bethlehem is about 15 feet long and 8 feet wide and takes up several tables in White Sands’ lobby. It is not open to the public, but is seen by residents, their families and guests.

“I like to see children’s eyes light up when they see it,” said Shobring of youths’ reaction to her creation, adding that onlookers have been respectful of it. “I’ve only lost one angel in 10 years,” she said.

Shobring said she starts setting up her Christmas display in early December and will break it down after New Year’s. Both efforts take several days and many hours, especially dismantling scenes, wrapping them up and packing them away in boxes.

The Shobring Christmas collection is mostly store-bought. A significant portion of it was obtained from a craftsman in Italy. More of it was purchased over the Internet. Said Shobring: “I found this man in a museum who did some handmade things for his wife for Christmas,” she said. “The next thing you know all his relatives and friends all wanted things. So he made it and put it on eBay.”

Baby Bethlehem has really become a focal point of Irma Shobring’s life, and will continue to be.

“It’s something my husband and I looked forward to each year,” she said. “We had a lot of enjoyment doing it.”