The Nativity isn't just a seasonal interest for Kathleen Putrah. It's a year-round obsession.

She's been collecting creches (figures depicting Christ's birth) for decades, and now has so many baby Jesuses, Marys, Josephs, shepherds, angels and wisemen in her home that she had it designed to accommodate them, with lots of built-in display shelves.

How many creches in total? "I stopped counting after 250," she said.

That was a long time ago. Many of her miniatures and more delicate sets are on year-round display in glass-fronted cabinets. "It's safer than in a box," she said.

But as the holiday season approaches, she takes the rest of her creches out of storage and arranges them around her home -- on mantels, tables, shelves and even hanging from her Christmas trees.

While she hires help in decorating her 10 trees, she makes it a holiday ritual to arrange the Nativity figures herself. "I do like to handle my own creches," she said.

Putrah's passion for creches started with a Mexican Nativity set she received as a gift from a friend in 1973. The friend was a longtime collector, and her fondness for the figures inspired Putrah. "We collected together for years. She was a big motivator for me," she said.

Putrah appreciates the figures as religious symbols and as an art form, an expression of the many cultures that produce them. She's traveled extensively, combing the globe for creches that are representative of the places she's visited. Her collection now includes creches from 30 different countries, representing every possible style -- from ornate gilded Italian creches to rustic Guatemalan creches to modern, minimalist creches.

The collection is so extensive that she often lends creches to museums, art centers and colleges for exhibits. "I love sharing them," she said.

That includes gifting them, especially to newlywed couples. "Any wedding I'm invited to, I give them a creche," she said. "I still believe they will always remember who it came from."