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The Christmas nativity Scene

Explore the history of the Christmas Nativity Scene, Find Vintage 20th Century Nativity Sets,

See New Nativity Sets from Thomas Kinkade, Fontanini, Precious Moments and More


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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

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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.

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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 2010

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.

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Thomas Kinkade Light Up Nativity Garland

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.


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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.

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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.

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Thomas Kinkade Holy Nativity Set

Over 2,000 years ago, a baby was born in Bethlehem who would bring hope into the world forever. Celebrate the light of that promise with a Thomas Kinkade Nativity sculpture collection.

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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.

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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.

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Thomas Kinkade Illuminated Santa Figurine with Nativity

Handcrafted market first. Santa carving Nativity while tree and Kinkade art light up with a glow. Hear the Christmas Story in the voice of the artist.

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Thomas Kinkade - Talking Nativity Angel

Limited-edition angel with glowing star, 2D scene on apron. Cape opens to Nativity scene, plays "Silent Night" as Thomas Kinkade tells Nativity story.

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Thomas Kinkade Gift of the Magi

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!

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Thomas Kinkade Three Kings Porcelain Collection

Handcrafted and hand-painted, 22K gold accents and sparkling simulated sapphires, rubies and diamonds.

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Thomas Kinkade Illuminated Christmas Story Angel

Limited-edition illuminated Nativity angel. Tells the Christmas story in fine sculpture. Plays "Silent Night."

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Thomas Kinkade Illuminated Crystal Nativity Christmas Tree

Genuine crystal Nativity tree lights up within. Topped with gold-tone star and sparkling with nearly 60 simulated crystals. Plays "Silent Night."

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Thomas Kinkade Illuminated Musical Snowfall Tree

First-ever illuminated musical Nativity tree with 15 sculpted figurines, a crystalline dome with "swirling snow," 25 LED lights.

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Thomas Kinkade Nativity in Silhouette

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!

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The 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

African 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.

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African Harambee Nativity Collection

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!

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Thomas Kinkade - King of Peace - African American Christmas Nativity

Handcrafted African American Nativity figurines in alabaster and white-toned sculptural robes. Baby Jesus fits in Mary's arms or in the manger.

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Native American Spirits in Harmony Nativity Figurine Collection

This is a brand new offering from the Bradford Exchange and is offered in limited quantities.

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Irish Christmas Nativities

Emerald Elegance Irish Nativity Set

The first issue in this set is the Holy Family. Hand-painted, elegantly elongated with14K gold leaf Celtic knot trim and beloved Irish symbols, including Trinity Knot, Claddagh, Celtic Cross, more.

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Illuminated Irish Nativity Set Collection

Fine porcelain decorated in rich shades of green, Celtic symbols, 22K-gold accents. Crèche lights from within. FREE lamb figurines with collection.

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Irish Christmas Tree Nativity

Handcrafted tabletop tree showcases Irish Nativity story in beautiful sculptural scenes with over 40 characters. Lights up and plays "Silent Night."

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Celtic Nativity Set

Made of resin, this unique 6 piece Celtic Nativity Set looks like it is carved from stone. Comes in a satin lined gift box.

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A Savior is Born - 18" Illuminated Christmas Nativity Set

Lights Up! Edition limited to only 5,000. Exclusive hand-cast Christian Nativity set captures Renaissance-era inspiration. FREE 10-piece figurine set.

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Genuine Bethlehem Olive Wood Nativity with Gift of Prayer at Church of Nativity

Hand-carved in Bethlehem from olive trees that grew in Christ's lifetime! With holy water from Holy Land plus a personal prayer lifted up for you.

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For God So Loved The World Nativity

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! Collection begins with the Holy Family

Bradford Exchange


Graceful Nativity Cross

A beautiful limited offering that will grace your home all year round.

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Debbie Mumm Peace on Earth Nativity

Hand-painted in Ms. Mumm's unique style - sweetly simple facial expressions, dot-and-swirl patterns on the costumes, and on the coats of the animals! Part of a collection to build over time.

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Holy Family Musical Crystal Egg

Designed by Thomas Kinkade, handcrafted of genuine crystal with gleaming silver plating and sparkling Swarovski® crystals. Peter Carl Faberge-style. Plays "Silent Night."

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Nativity Scene Tabletop Christmas Tree

Exclusive first! Delights with music and over 50 hand-painted Nativity figurines. Figurines are movable so you can create your own scenes.

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Silver Blessings Porcelain Nativity Set

Porcelain figurines showcase platinum-silver illustrations of the Nativity story. Lighted wooden crèche, FREE lamb figurines with collection.

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The Nativity Christmas Music Box

The story of Christmas depicted in first-of-a-kind wooden music box - handcrafted sculptural Nativity scene and Adolfo Simeone art. Limited edition.

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Illuminated Christmas Nativity Set

Part of a collection to build over time. Nativity scene with sculpted religious figurines hand-painted in the same jewel-like colors of Thomas Kinkade paintings. Illumination throughout.

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Mary Englebreit A Child Is Born Nativity

Part of a collection to build over time. Crafted in raised relief for the look of carved wood and hand-painted in the Mary Engelbreit's signature palette. Exclusive!

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O Holy Night Poseable Nativity Collection

Magnificently lifelike figures that you can pose. Part of a collection to build over time.

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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 giving.

Limited Time Coupon   Use Coupon Code: 10OFF100 at checkout and take $10 OFF your order of $100 !

Fontanini 2.5 Inch Nativity Sets

Meticulously hand painted, this tiny nativity has magnificent details and plays "O Holy Night"

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Fontanini 3.5 Inch Nativity Sets

The same pains taking attention to detail as you'll find in every Fontanini set. This one comes with four figures and an Italian wood manger. You can also add other figures

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Fontanini 5 Inch Nativity Sets

From stone facades to farm house style mangers, there's a lot to choose from in this size range.

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Fontanini 7.5 Inch Nativity Sets

Magnificent detailing is found in each piece in the Fontanini 7.5 inch sets. There are a myriad of figures to add as you build an heirloom set.

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Fontanini 12 Inch Nativity Sets

Imported from Tuscany, each piece has remarkable detail, like the Infant Jesus in His manager at left.

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Fontanini 18 Inch Nativity Sets

These larger pieces are perfect for grander homes and smaller church displays. Again, every imaginable figure is available to add on over the years

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Fontanini 27 Inch Nativity Sets

These exceptional Nativity pieces will be cherished for generations - whether they are placed in a home, an institution or a Church.

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Fontanini 50 Inch Masterpiece Nativity Sets

Slightly smaller than life-sized, these are true Italian masterpieces that will be revered by generations

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Fontanini Snow Domes and Glitter Domes

Snow 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.

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Fontanini Nativity Ornaments

The Christmas tree, for all it's sparkle and excitement, just isn't complete without a representation of the Nativity. Fontanini has many ornaments to choose from.

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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.
Precious Moments Nativity Village Set

This is 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.

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Precious Moments Nativity Christmas Tree

Part of a collection that you can build over time. Angel ornaments and Nativity figurines retell the holy story, with 3' pre-lit tree. Ornaments, figurines are removable. Plays "Silent Night."

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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.
8 Piece Resin Children's Nativity

Children will love their very own Nativity set! Includes eight adorable and joyful figures. 4" Tall

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10 Piece Children's Nativity Set

This adorable 10 piece Nativity set has 4 inch figures and comes with a wood stable

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11 Piece Children's Nativity Set

Eleven figures: the Holy Family, three kings, a shepherd, an angel, a lamb, a donkey, and a stable. Stable is 8" high, with Bethlehem star and a little window with a candle burning on the ledge.

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Children's Nativity Ornament

These cute little figures make a sweet scene in this Resin Nativity Ornament. Perfect for kids! The ornament measures 3.25"H. Comes in a gift box.

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Musical Nativity Play Set

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 carry around.

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My Pocket Nativity Set

Six pieces that are 3" tall. An ideal "quiet" activity to keep small children focused at Church during the Christmas season

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Nativity Play Set with Story Book

Children 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

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Silent Night Nativity Cloth Book

Looking for 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.

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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
Kneeling 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.

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Santa's Christmas Prayer

This 5.5 inch figurine features Santa on bended knee before the Infant Jesus. At the base is a verse from the poem Santa's Christmas Prayer

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