When decorating our home at Christmas it is never complete until we set up the nativity set. When I was a child my mother had a beautiful nativity set with hundreds of pieces that she always set up under our Christmas tree every year. I remember lying on the floor just looking at that display and sometimes when my mother wasn’t looking, I played with the pieces. Unfortunately, after my mother passed away this year, I don’t know what happened to her nativity set. It would have been nice to have one or two pieces for remembrance!
When I first got married and started decorating my own home, I knew I wanted a nativity set and I took my time looking for the right one. There is a wonderful Christmas store in Solvang, California that has been there since 1967 called Jule Hus. (solvangschristmasstore.com) They sell beautiful Old European glass ornaments, German Nutcrackers, Christmas Angels, and Fontanini Nativity sets. We loved going to the store whenever we visited Solvang and it didn’t matter what time of year because as soon as we walked through the doors it was always Christmas!
After years of searching I finally found the perfect nativity set that I wanted at Jule Hus. I bought a beautiful Fontanini set that included a stable, Gloria the angel, Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus in a manger. Over the years I added more pieces; the three wise Men and their camels, shepherds and their flock of sheep, also a set of ox, donkeys and goats, palm trees and a star that hangs suspended over the nativity set. It will never be as big as my mother’s nativity set, but it is small enough to display anywhere in the house. We have display it in an oak cabinet in our California house. Now that we have moved to the Midwest, I have displayed the nativity set in several different places, such as: in the library on top of an old piano from Germany and last year I had displayed the nativity set on a lovely heirloom table that we received from my husband’s Grandmother.
One thing remains the same no matter wherever it is displayed, traditionally the manger stays empty until Christmas Eve. On that evening we read from a beautifully illustrated book that tells the story of the birth of Jesus. After we are done reading, my daughter will put baby Jesus in the manger and we say a prayer. It is a lovely moment to remind us of the true meaning of Christmas and a family tradition that we love to celebrate every year.
Tradition of the Nativity scene or crèche
A nativity scene or crèche depicts the birth of Jesus. The main figures are the infant Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Other figures include angels, shepherds and the three wise men known as the Magi. Usually the scene takes place in a barn or stable with Mary and Joseph and a manger for Jesus. Usually displayed with nativity are various animals such as a donkey, ox and the camels belonging to the three wise men. Sometimes, more elaborate nativities will display different scenes from the village, such as: the Inn and the Innkeeper and the other village merchants and craftsmen.
During the Christmas season, the tradition of the nativity scene is created all around the world. There are many different types of nativities that represent the various countries and the cultures of the native people. Known as the Szopka, the traditional Polish nativity dates back to the 13th century and was originally carried from door to door by performance groups that told the story of the birth of Jesus. There is a famous annual competition held in Krakow’s main square and prizes are awarded for the most elaborately decorated nativity scenes. The construction of these modern nativity scenes often use the design elements found in Krakow’s historic architecture and include Gothic spires, Renaissance facades and Baroque domes.
Mass produced nativity sets are now available worldwide in all different types of materials and every price range. One of the most successful companies is Fontanini. The House of Fontanini was founded in 1908 in Bagni di Lucca, Italy. They produce and hand paint cast resin figures in several different sizes that range from 2.5″ to 50″ tall. The most popular sizes are the 5″ and 7″ figurines and are currently distributed by the Roman Inc. since 1973. They are usually sold by Christmas ornament suppliers such as Bronner’s. (www.bronners.com) These treasured nativity pieces are very collectible and would make a great family heirloom to pass onto future generations.
If you also display a Nativity Set, I would love to see your photos!