The Christmas Nativity Scene deserves a place of honor in every Christian home. We call them by different names and honor the Birth of Our Lord with traditions as diverse as the world of Catholicism.
In large Cathedrals and parishes - and even in some Catholic homes - there are elaborate displays called Presepios. These are displays, usually at a side altar, featuring realistic scenery that includes rocks and shrubbery. This odd sounding word comes from the Latin word praesepire (to enclose, to fence) that now means manger or crib. The mean came, perhaps, from Saint Mary Major Basilica in Rome, called Sancta Maria ad praesepe since the 7th Century, since traditions holds that the relics of the Infant Jesus' Crib are housed there.
The oldest existing presepio is in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major where, until 1870, many of the Popes celebrated Christmas Mass. Made of marble, it is attributed to the artist Arnolfo di Cambio ca. 1289. In 2005 the 700 year old pieces were restored and seen by the general public. Previously, they were only viewed on Christmas Eve.
In many homes, a much more modest display is called a crèche. This French word comes from the Latin word cripia, meaning manger. From it we find the words used in various languages for the little bed of Our Lord's Nativity: crib, krippe, krubba, szopka, and wertep.
The earliest known depiction of the Nativity was found in the catacombs of Saint Priscilla of 2 A.D. and is in the form of a frieze showing the Madonna and Child, Saint Joseph, three wise men, and another figure that may be the prophet Isaiah with an eight pointed star above. Later images dating up until 5 A.D. include a fresco in the catacomb of Saint Sebastian with a manger with animals, but lacking Mary and Joseph.
Saint Bonaventure tells us that in 1223 Saint Francis of Assisi introduced a living nativity scene, taking an ox and ass and tying them to a manger and engaging a crowd of people from all over the countryside to attend Mass before the crib.
As we fast forward to the 19th century, we find that the presepio became much simpler and it's use spread to all of the social classes and became part of the domestic ritual for the season of Christmas. Pop up lithographed nativities like the one below were popular beginning in the 1890s, although the one shown below is somewhat more recent.
The trend continued into the 20th century with die cut cardboard
You can still find a few of these on eBay every year
In the late 1800's, more and more nativity scenes found their way into the Catholic home with the introduction of inexpensive figures in clay, plaster or papier-mâché, and in Germany, carved wood.
Perhaps you own your mother's or grandmother's nativity set like the one below. These popular Nativity sets were within reach of the workingman's budget and could be found at low budget chain stores like Woolworth. The manger was made of cardboard and more often than not, fitted with a panorama scene in the back. An opening in the rear allowed a single bulb, perhaps from a low hanging branch of the tree, to be inserted to illuminate the scene.
The figures were either paper mache or plaster. Most came from Italy, but many originated in Germany. A treasured few, made of soapstone, hail from France.
If you go to estate sales, these are easy enough to find in the summertime, but as Christmas nears, the best place to look is on eBay. See what's on eBay now
You'll also be able to locate replacement pieces. Camels and lambs routinely break their legs, and every now and then Mary or Joseph will prematurely go into hiding in Egypt (aka a dusty corner of your attic)
On the slightly higher end of popular market nativities were the Italian crèches made of wood. These, like their cardboard counterparts, often had straw glued to the rooftop, but sometimes reed or bamboo was added for definition.
Toward the middle of the 20th century small hard plastic Nativity scenes from Hong Kong became popular. These featured hand painted pieces and glitter details. Often there was a vinyl palm tree to round out the scene. I confess that I have an extensive collection of these and they fill every available nook at Christmastime.
Keep Christ in Christmas Nativity Car Magnet
Every year friends and strangers ask us, "Where did you get that car magnet?" If you are Catholic and you own a car, this is the symbol you need to display.
Olive Wood Nativities from the Holy Land - Many of our readers have asked for these beautiful nativities that are made in Jerusalem. We found a source and now you can order them directly from the artist.
New Nativities For Christmas
Every year we get numerous requests for Thomas Kinkade nativities. So many that I've decided to put his beautiful works first. Thomas Kinkade, known as the artist of light, has created so many well loved Christmas figures. They are destined to become heirlooms to treasure in your Christian home.
Thomas Kinkade Illuminated Nativity Tabletop Tree: Glory To The Newborn King
An amazingly beautiful piece featuring over 40 handcrafted figures. Lights up at the touch of a switch and plays Silent Night. Stands 16" tall.
This beautiful display comes in six issues. Beautifully handcrafted and hand-painted, every issue in this Christian home decor collection is truly a work of inspirational art. Thirteen fully sculpted figures, each inspired by the Christmas story, add warm and drama. Rich accents of 22K gold shimmer in the glow of the illuminated Nativity and over 60 holiday lights. At about 4 feet long, this reverent indoor Christmas decoration will add dramatic beauty and meaning to your Christmas.
Thomas Kinkade Elegant Blessing Nativity Figurines
Each figurine in the collection is handcrafted of artist's resin in a rustic style that recalls the simple beauty of chiseled wood. For a sophisticated touch, the hand-painted figurines are elegantly elongated with flowing robes that are an ideal "canvas" for raised-relief scenes depicting the story of the Nativity.
Thomas Kinkade Blessed and Holy Night Nativity Figurine Collection
Each figurine in this inspiring collection is an exquisite, three-dimensional sculpture, handcrafted of artist's resin and hand-painted in the same jewel-like tones found in Mr. Kinkade's world-renowned paintings.
Thomas Kinkade Indoor or Outdoor Nativity Set with Free Spotlight
Picture the night Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the way the air must have been infused with the light of hope and the promise of God's love fulfilled! Now, for the first time ever, The acclaimed Painter of Light™ interprets the peace and glory of the Nativity in a very special collection of Thomas Kinkade outdoor Nativity decorations. Learn More
Thomas Kinkade Light Up Nativity Wreath
Most nativity scenes only offer a view of the manger scene, where Mary and Joseph lovingly tend to baby Jesus as angels and stable animals watch over Him. Now, you can envision what Bethlehem residents and the Magi might have been doing on this holy night in an exquisite Thomas Kinkade nativity wreath that showcases six lighted buildings and more than 25 figures. Learn More
Thomas Kinkade Nativity Christmas Tree Collection
These pieces are not only beautiful reminders of the miracle of Christ's Birth, but they will also become treasured heirlooms.
Thomas Kinkade Star of Hope Illuminated Nativity Scene
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the light of hope infused the air and the world rejoiced in the promise of God's love fulfilled. Now, the peace and glory of this blessed story is interpreted in a beautiful new way. Learn More
Thomas Kinkade Story of the Nativity
For the first time ever, Thomas Kinkade takes you through all the wonders and joys of Jesus' birth as he narrates the miraculous story of the Nativity. Watch - and listen - as each part of this Thomas Kinkade tabletop Nativity scene lights up as the story unfolds and the stirring melody of "Silent Night" plays.
Peace - Love
- Hope are the sentiments emblazoned on these kings. You're among the first to
see this brand-new item from The Bradford Exchange Online. Quantities are
limited, so hurry to reserve yours today!
Bradford Exchange is one of the first stops for collectors. Their
magnificent licensed pieces always appreciate in value over time and are
excellent choices for heirloom nativities. Many Nativity sets come in
collections that you can build over time.
African American and Native
American Nativity Sets
American Holy Family Collection
Handcrafted, hand-painted figures have the look of
carved wood. Robes depict raised-relief scenes of the Nativity. Ebony skin
tones, golden accents.
Fontanini Since 1908, the House of Fontanini has created magnificent old-world sculptures treasured by collectors and
revered by worshippers all over the world. Today, Emanuele, Alessandro, Luca, Marco, and Stefano Fontanini are the fourth generation to lead the celebrated House of Fontanini in the village of Bagni di Lucca, Italy, where it was founded nearly a century ago.
There are so many options available to select
from the 2.5 inch figures to the grand 70 inch pieces that you might find in a
Cathedral. Each size also has many different styles to choose from and
additional figures. Some even come in packages of multiple quantities for gift
domes and glitter domes have become a captivating element of Christmas decor.
Many are musical and all are certain to fascinate children. Fontanini offers
most in packs of two so you can keep one and share one.
Thirty years ago, Sam Butcher, a Christian man of deep, personal faith, joined his friend in an undertaking that would become wildly popular throughout the world. They named their company, Precious Moments. Today these charming childlike figures still tug at the heartstrings of many and are popular for Christmas Nativity figures.
Moments Nativity Village Set
part of a collection that you can build over time. First collectible Precious
Moments® Nativity village collection inspired by the artistry of Sam Butcher.
Lights up. Includes FREE figurines.
Nativity Sets for Children Children are fascinated quite naturally with Nativity sets. Many families place child friendly sets around the house so little ones can learn to love Our Little Lord. Please be careful with pieces and don't let children play with sets that are too tiny for them.
Piece Resin Children's Nativity
Children will love their very own Nativity set! Includes eight adorable and
joyful figures. 4" Tall
Cute fabric stable
unfolds to reveal a 10-piece play set, including: Mary, Joseph, Jesus in the
manger, the Magi, a shepherd, a sheep, a donkey, and an angel. Each figure made
of fabric and most are finger puppets. A small fabric picture book is also
included. The stable plays "Silent Night". A handle at the top makes it easy to
bring the story of Jesus' birth to life with this charming Nativity Set. The
complete collection features a mini storybook describing the birth of Christ and
17 toy pieces ideal for little hands to play with and learn from
something softer for the little ones to participate with at Christmas time?
Children will have little figures to play with as the Nativity story is read,
bringing them closer to the true meaning of Christmas.
Kneeling Santa Figures
The Kneeling Santa brings together the most popular symbols of Christmas – the
Christ Child and Santa Clause or St. Nicholas. Inspired by the Scripture verse,
"...at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth
and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord..."
(Philippians 2:10-1), the Kneeling Santa beautifully blends the religious and
secular aspects of Christmas. It refocuses our celebrations on the manger and
God's greatest gift to us - His Son, Jesus. In the presence of such love we are
all brought to our knees. The Kneeling Santa also reminds us of the original St.
Nicholas and his mission to live Christ's love by sharing his gifts with those
in need. We've featured a couple of these figures below, but you can find more here
Santa Nativity Set
In this seven
piece Nativity scene Santa is kneeling next to the baby Jesus with several
manger animals as witnesses. Includes a gift box.