Decor – Fontanini Nativity Display

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!

1971 Christmas - Mom and Barbara

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. (  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. (  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!

Decor – Fall to Christmas Change Over

The week after Thanksgiving is a very busy time for me!  That’s when the Fall decorations are put away and the Christmas decoration boxes are brought up from the basement.   I really enjoy taking my time to unpack each box and deciding how I want to do this year’s displays.  Even when I’m using the same pieces year after year I try to set my displays in different ways or in different rooms of the house.  Sometimes the Fontanini Nativity set will be in the dining room and the next year it will be in the our library or the Department 56 North Pole Village will be in the family room bookshelf and the next year is will on the mantel over the fireplace.  This keeps everything interesting and it is fun to use different ideas or techniques to set up the displays.

In upcoming December posts, I will take you through all my preparations of the different Christmas displays I create in our home, such as: Fontanini Nativity Display and Department 56 North Pole Village.  Some other December posts detail my other Christmas decorations, such as: Themed Christmas trees and Christmas wreaths.  All of these Christmas decorations are created to make the holiday season a special one for my family.

Now, I wanted to discuss how to use some of the same materials for both Fall and Christmas.  When this is done in a creative way it can save time and expense when changing over the decorations from one holiday to next.  (Who doesn’t want to have extra time and save money at this time of year!!)

Pine garlands are a very versatile material for this purpose and I will show how with some simple changes it can be used for both Fall and Christmas decorations.  One of the most traditional ways to use pine garlands are on a mantel over the fireplace.  Below are two photos showing the same garland decorated for both holidays.  Keeping the same pine garland on the mantel, I switched out the fall decorations and replaced them with the Christmas decorations.  For Fall, the pine garland is decorated with colorful ceramic fall leaves and red berry sprays scattered throughout.    For Christmas, I used several ceramic snowflakes, large green glass pinecones ornaments and red berry sprays.


Small tabletop Christmas trees can be used in the same versatile way.  In my dining room I create a “Memory Tree” and placed it on a tea table.  This special tree is decorated with family photos in small bronze photo frame ornaments.  (Please see this week’s Craft post for more information on the Memory Tree or Wreath)  Below are two photos showing the “Memory Tree” decorated in two different ways for Fall and Christmas.  For Thanksgiving, the tree is decorated with golden feathers and oak leaves with acorns.  For Christmas, I replace the golden feathers with burgundy feathers and small glass pinecone ornaments.


As you can see, all it takes is a little creativity and by simply using different decorations to accent a pine garland or a tabletop Christmas tree the look can reflect the different holidays.

I would love to hear from you so, please write me to share your own ideas or comments.