Marie Therese Burotto grew up in her native country of France with a creche instead of a Christmas tree in her home during the holiday season.

And the Salt Lake County woman, now 82, has carried on the practice through 30 years in France, in Switzerland and two years in Utah.A creche is a display containing santons, figurines that help tell the story of Christ's birth. The santons are made of clay, are hand-painted and clothed much like they would have been 300 or 400 years ago.

Building a creche is always a major project for Burotto. It fills three-fourths of her living room. Beautifully lighted and arranged, the display brightens her home and adds to the enjoyment of Christmas for her, a daughter and son-in-law, France and Laren Shortridge, grandchildren and others.

Burotto's display includes a manger scene with Mary and Joseph, baby Jesus, a park, a miniature bridge, a waterfall and birds flying overhead. Recorded French Christmas songs add to the atmosphere.

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"When I was a child growing up in Provence, the southern area of France near the Mediterranean Sea, there was no question of having a Christmas tree. Instead, we would create a creche. Depending on how much money and how religious one was determined how large it was. The Christmas tree was only for orphanages or public places," Shortridge quoted her mother as saying.

Burotto, who speaks very little English, believes her mother created a small creche when she and her brothers were quite young. As a teen, Burotto took over the project, which today still contains santons she included about 70 years ago.

"I think and dream about my creche all year long and how to improve it year after year. It takes me about three weeks to build it. Because of my age I only work on it a little bit each day," she said.

This year's display contains a few items Burotto obtained during a recent trip to France. The creche will be exhibited at her home until Jan. 31, the date that European custom marks the end of the Christmas season. Those interested in seeing the exhibit should contact Shortridge at 268-9259.

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