Christmas traditions: the nativity scene!

The tradition that keeps the magic alive!


The nativity scenes the Italians set in their homes come from a long tradition that started with Frances of Assisi. When he came back from Bethlehem he wanted to recreate and commemorate the moments of the birth of Jesus. He organized a living nativity by recreating the cave, getting a ox and a donkey and a little baby that he himself held.

It then became common for churches to use poor materials to recreate the small scene. But it was only in the XVI century in Naples that the actual idea of the modern nativity started. Saint Gaetano Thiene had the vision to set the nativity scene in a daily life context, adding pastors and workers, houses, sheep to the whole scene, around Jesus’s caves. Churches but also worshippers’ homes would now build a nativity scene, by buying pieces from handcrafters or making it themselves.


Artisans and people who love model building, would build a whole little village (up to 10 sqm), with houses, streets and of course many people living and working. It’s so fun to visit such scenes and to look for all the characters and find them moving: the bread maker, the one in charge of the well, the knife grinder. Walk with your eyes all the streets, look inside the houses to spot all the smallest particulars, and finally find the cave with the main characters, the perfect lighting, and all the other pastors leaning towards them. Such a beautiful way to celebrate this moment with beauty and care for details.

Living nativity scene

There are many towns in Italy that keep the traditions of a live scene of the nativity, as it started at the beginning with Francis of Assisis. Whether is within a church for an afternoon, or a grand event in the main square of the town, it’s always impressive to witness such commitment to keep a strong tradition that is almost magical. Often the living scene only include Mary, Joseph and Jesus. But sometimes it becomes a real show with hundreds of extras and a whole choreography with a well-finished narration. A must-witness event! Click here to see an example


Nowadays people may decide to have fun with the idea of a nativity scene and build it in a creative way. Schools could build their own nativity scene allowing kids to experiment with materials and ideas. Or companies and brands could recreate a nativity scene with their products. It doesn’t matter how or where, what matters is keeping the tradition alive and put the effort in creating something that is truthful to the meaning of the nativity scene. Any idea is welcomed and creativity is encouraged!

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