The Museum continues a longstanding holiday tradition with the presentation of its Christmas tree, a favorite of New Yorkers and visitors from around the world. A vivid eighteenth-century Neapolitan Nativity scene—embellished with a profuse array of diminutive, lifelike attendant figures and silk-robed angels hovering above—adorns the candlelit spruce. Recorded music and lighting ceremonies add to the enjoyment of the holiday display.
The annual Christmas display is the result of the generosity, enthusiasm, and dedication of the late Loretta Hines Howard, who began collecting crèche figures in 1925 and soon after conceived the idea of combining the Roman Catholic custom of elaborate Nativity scenes with the tradition of decorated Christmas trees that had developed among the largely Protestant people of northern Europe. This unusual combination first was presented to the public in 1957, when the Metropolitan Museum initially exhibited Mrs. Howard's collection. More than two hundred eighteenth-century Neapolitan crèche figures were given to the Museum by Loretta Hines Howard starting in 1964, and they have been displayed each holiday season for nearly forty years. Linn Howard, Mrs. Howard's daughter, worked with her mother for many years on the annual installation. Since her mother's death in 1982, she has continued to create new settings for the Museum's ensemble and additional figures that she has been lending to the collection. In keeping with family tradition, Linn Howard's daughter, artist Andrea Selby Rossi, now joins her mother each year in creating the display.