AYER — The holiday season can be a treasured time full of warmth and wonder, but it can also be a busy whirlwind of gift shopping, travel plans and social events. Carolyn Smith is in the retail business, and knows how hectic and stressful it can get.

Smith was looking for a low-key holiday activity, she said. Not a church fundraiser or holiday craft fair but “something noncommercial” that offers time-out from the bustle.

As it turned out, the peaceful seasonal activity she was seeking was right in front of her.

The company Smith works for has a mail-order catalog that sells the nativity sets she said, and she had a collection of her own.

That’s the genesis of “In a Manger, an Exhibition of Nativities from Around the World,” which will be held in the Parish Hall of St. Andrew Episcopal Church, 7 Faulkner St., on Saturday, Dec. 12, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The day’s events conclude with a community carol sing at 4:30 p.m. for all ages and voices.

In addition to more than 200 tabletop and miniature Nativities from 22 countries, there will be a children’s activity table, a Christmas tree decorated with Nativity ornaments, homemade Christmas cookies and cider. Admission is free.

The exhibit premiered eight years ago and has been an annual tradition ever since.

The first year, organizers set a target of 50 Nativities and came up with 75, including a few from Smith’s collection.

Nativities are loaned for the exhibit — more than 200 of them this year. They come not only from around the world but from folks in local communities. Some are family heirlooms or travel souvenirs that belong to parishioners, but others from outside the church have brought Nativities to display, too. “We welcome them all,” Smith said.

The array is so extensive and eclectic. The Nativities are of just about every size, shape and material one can imagine, Smith said, and most are hand made.

The Nativities range from simple to elaborate. Some are manger-centered, with Mary, Joseph, shepherds, animals, three gift-bearing kings and the baby Jesus in a rustic cradle. Some of the baby’s features are merely shapes suggesting the face; others are wide-eyed and smiling. Some of the figures wear ethnic costumes and have features that show their countries of origin. A Nativity from China has calligraphy painted on it and the figures’ facial features are unmistakably Chinese, Smith said.

The Nativities Smith put out for a recent preview included several stick-puppets from Poland; a graceful manger tableau carved from olive wood in the Holy Land (Jerusalem) and a set of chunky, colorful, knitted dolls made by a group of ladies from the church, Smith said, including herself. There was nothing breakable on this table, but the full exhibit includes delicate items and valuable ones, too, including a large set of collectible Hummel figures and a “huge” set made of Lenox china.

“About 90 percent are hand-made by craftspeople in the different countries,” Smith said. The casts of characters differ, with llamas instead of camels from Peru and Bolivia, for example. Some are made of painted paper, metal, glass, wood; exotic fabrics such as banana leaves and sisal from Kenya and terra cotta from South America and white alabaster from Peru.

One Nativity from Mexico was made by a sculptor who uses recycled auto parts, Smith said. The baby Jesus was made from a spark plug.