Wednesday, Dec 04 2013 12:39 PM

A world of Christmases in just one afternoon

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Santa Claus holds a teddy bear in the USA area of Christmas Around the World in the 2012 display.

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BY ASHLEY FISCHER Contributing writer

Sure, Santa manages to travel the globe in one night, but learning about the Christmas customs of more than 43 countries in an afternoon isn't too shabby either.

For the past six years, Bakersfield's Christmas Around the World has allowed yuletide lovers the chance to visit some ornately decorated displays showcasing holiday traditions from Austria to Zimbabwe: 150 Christmas trees, 800 nutcrackers and 3,000 unique nativity items, among other collections.

"Honestly, it takes people's breath away," said Sherrie Lewis, Christmas Around the World's creator, collector and decorator. "When people come off the elevator, they cannot even believe it. It's like traveling around the world at Christmas time and staying right here in Bakersfield."

Unfortunately, even around the holidays, all good things must come to an end. To honor the passing of her husband, Bob, who was instrumental in the creation of Christmas Around the World, Lewis decided that 2013-14 would be the event's last holiday season.

"My husband was just the biggest nut for nutcrackers," said Lewis. "In Germany, there are 800 nutcrackers, and many of them are from his collection. We're selling some of them to the public, but then the family's keeping a lot of them. I've got five kids and nine grandkids, so we're all splitting them up."

So for all the procrastinators out there, this is officially the last chance to indulge yourself in Lewis' 15,000 square-feet of educational holiday festivities. Lewis' grand tour of Christmas will be commemorated in the official full-color book, "A Wonderful World of Christmas" ($12).

A joint self-publishing venture between Lewis and her daughter, Megan, "A Wonderful World of Christmas" is filled with pictures of the various countries' displays, as well as the many Christmas facts guests learn year after year, like: St. Francis was the first person to assemble a nativity, and in Belgium people traditionally decorate their trees with lace, fruit and chocolate (the country's three primary industries).

The book will be available for purchase by Friday in the expanded Christmas Around the World holiday shop, which also contains gifts and a variety of Christmas decorations.

"We've tripled the size of our holiday gift shop," Lewis said. "Since this is the last year, we've taken a lot of things out of the displays and we've put them in there. The main thing we added this year is that we've got a beautiful photo book. That's our newest thing. People have asked for it every year, and we finally got it done."

While Lewis is sad to see her collaborative Christmas museum come to a close, she is grateful for all the support she has received from the community throughout the years.

"Our purpose was to promote the true meaning of Christmas," she said. "By showcasing these traditions and customs from around the world, it allows people to see how they've been incorporated into American culture. I feel that it (Christmas Around the World) has really become a light in our community."


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