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Gift of the 1,000 Magi Richard Peña | Sat, Dec 07 2013 12:00 PM

In my education years I always took joy in the three weeks that we are currently entering.  These were the three weeks between the holidays of Thanksgiving and the beginning of the Christmas holidays and they always seemed to be rather special. 

The students seemed to be more attentive and, as a result,  more quality learning took place in this period than any other in the school year. 

This was, of course, due to the anticipation of the Christmas vacation (nowadays I think they call it the winter break) that was in the offing.

The signs of the Christmas season is upon us. The stores at the malls or on our streets are liberally sprinkled with bright lights and decorative fixtures.  Some of the homes in the various neighborhoods have also put on their Christmas finery adding a festive air to the surroundings.

There is no better sign of the commencement of the Christmas season than a visit to the Bonita Museum and Cultural Center.  Julie Gay, the curator/director at the establishment has sent out the word that the Magi decorations are up for display for another season.

The Magi season, that will run at the museum from Dec. 6 to Jan. 6, is, in the opinion of some, the highlight of the year’s exhibits. 

The Magi collection, that numbers nearly 1,000 sets was started by the late Dr. Harris Teller.  The story had often been told that Teller, then a hospital corpsman on a ship in Pusan harbor during the Korean conflict had a sick bay full of sick sailors. There is nothing sadder, thought Teller, than a sick sailor during the Christmas season.  It is true that they had a Christmas tree in the sick bay but this did little to allay the discouraging feeling of the infirm sailors.  So to try to somewhat soften this feeling he went ashore and found a store selling crèches complete with the three wise men. These three were the beginning of what would be the classic, numerous collection.

In addition to amassing this collection Teller, an educator, did much research on the Magi.  Being of the Jewish faith he knew little of the Christianity version of Christmas. He, therefore, attempted to learn the origin of each set. How the three wise men are depicted depends on the country in which they were made. He noted that in Latin American countries people take more of an interest in the Wise Men than in our country.  Here at home it is perhaps the competition of the Santa Claus theory that seems to dominate the season.

In the beginning Teller, who kept his collection in his attic, would take them down and exhibit a few sets in his home.  He was approached by members of the Bonita Museum and the custom of exhibiting them during the Christmas season was commenced. Shortly before he died he bequeathed the entire collection to the museum.

The exhibit this year will feature almost the entire collection. One will see the Magi in many forms and depictions.  They range from the classic, expensive Llardo examples to the inexpensive, simple type made by school children. There are many that show them walking the road while others will depict them on some beast, as a manner of transportation. In each of them, however, one will notice that there is a classic air about them.

The museum is open from Wednesday through Saturday starting at 10 a.m.  Admission is free.

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