Virtual Advent: My Creche Collection from Around the World

It is my pleasure to welcome the Virtual Advent to my blog today. I love the Christmas season for the tree lights, the music, the food, and the general feelings of good will. I also am a Christian, so I love the community-wide celebration of the birth of my Savior, even though I know a good number of people view it as a secular holiday. (I’m okay with that too.) At any rate, I am glad I can have a post today about a special part of my Christmas.

Last year, although I didn’t know about the advent blogosphere tour, I wrote a post about favorite Christmas music. I loved the non-books seasonal break. This year, I thought I’d talk about my nativity scene collection.

My First

I don’t know where I got this, but it was my first and only nativity scene when I was in high school. It was mine, in my room. I took it to college and it sat in a corner of my dorm room. Now, when I unpack it with my Christmas decorations, it reminds me of the joy of simplicity: while it’s cheap, it’s a Christmas reminder of the humility of Christ’s stable. When I take it out each year, I remember that a 14-month-old should never be left within reach of anything even remotely sentimental (he threw this down the stairs within 3 minutes). It is breakable. Surprise! Thank goodness for glue.

Olive Wood from Jerusalem

I had the marvelous and blessed opportunity to go Jerusalem at the end of my first year at college (the year 2000). The only thing I really really wanted for myself as a “souvenir” was an olive wood nativity scene. When I bought it, I was assured it was hand carved; the more I look at it, each year, the more I suspect it’s more of the generic variety. There are flaws in it and in some respects it’s rather cheaply made.  (I also didn’t know much about bargaining and so forth, so I can’t say it was cheap to buy). I was young and naive. If I had to choose again, I’d probably select a different, more “polished” model.

But those facts are irrelevant when I unpack this each year. I am reminded of my time in Jerusalem and the testimony I developed of Jesus Christ while I was there. And every Christmas as I unpack this nativity set, I remember what Christmas truly means.

This olive wood set was the only nativity set and only Christmas decoration I took with me to Australia for the 15 months I lived there, so it was our main means of celebration that year. I was glad to have something Christmas-y.

Bolivian Scene

In 2002, I spent a summer in Bolivia, where I got to help people. (That was the general idea, but in retrospect, I think I got in a fair amount of play time in there given the memories I have of the other volunteers and other single youths I met.)

At any rate, in this nativity set, the characters are playing native Bolivian instruments and wearing traditional Bolivian clothing, reminiscent of the high country around La Paz. I wish it were larger: I’ve lost a piece, I think, and they break very easily.  (Thank goodness for superglue.) Nevertheless, I like the reminder of my time in Bolivia.

Porcelain Creche from Grandma

A few years ago (2004?), my grandmother sent me, and each grandchild (of which there are many), a beautiful porcelain creche for Christmas. I am reminded of my grandmother and grandfather each year I take it out. It is gentle and beautiful, as is my grandmother. And it is majestic in grandeur, as I like to recall my grandfather was, who has passed away.

This is one of those nativity sets that I imagine will break some day, thanks to some little child. Nonetheless, I do my best to keep it safe by keeping it in the no-kids-allowed living room underneath the Christmas tree, the traditional place for keeping presents. Since this was a present to me, under the tree seems an appropriate place for it still. But also, the tree skirt reminds me of a soft blanket for a babe in a manger, a place of rest and quiet. And the tree branches protect it, much as a real tree would protect small animals from the elements.

Creche from Cinque Terra

In 2005, just months before I met the man who would become husband, I had the chance to visit Paris and parts of Italy with my friend. Although I found a beautiful but tiny glass creche in Paris that I loved (I still think of it!), I passed on it given the steep price tag and my limited spending money. Instead, I found this homemade ceramic hanging creche in one of the small towns of Cinque Terra on the Italian Riviera. I loved the setting there. It was so colorful and earthy: I loved how the cities were built into the mountains. This creche reminds me of that setting. I’d love to return to Italy some day with my husband.

My Mother-in-Law Nativity

My mother-in-law sent me and my husband a nativity for our first married Christmas (2006). The figures are large and attention getting, and all of them remind me of angels singing “Joy to the World.” It’s my largest nativity set. When I unpack it at Christmas-time, I am reminded of my mother-in-law and the joy of family gatherings at this time of year.

Australian Nativity

In 2007, I was living in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, approximately 16,000 miles from our nearest family, with a very newborn baby. We were going out of town for the holiday itself. But I had told my friend Michelle about my nativity collection that was in storage far away. So she brought me a little “Australian” nativity to join it. There’s nothing distinctly Australian about this little ornament-sized nativity, but it reminds me of my friend, our wonderful time Down Under, and the fact that even when I am far from family and “traditions,” friends can be there for us to help us feel loved.

Little People Nativity

In 2008, my mother-in-law gave us another nativity scene, this one a Little People set for my then one-year-0ld to play with. That first year, Raisin tried to eat the baby Jesus, last year he put the wise man on a train (no slow camels for my train-obsessed son!), and this year he enjoys telling me the Christmas story with the figures. (Although it’s hard to see each piece in the set in the picture, that is how my son insisted it be set up. As it is his, I obliged.)

White Elephant

This year, I’ve acquired two more! The first I got was this inexpensive, home glued scene that I got from a white elephant exchange. I gave it to my son. Maybe it can be “his” just like my first was “mine.”  This reminds me of silly holiday parties…

Stocking Holders Set

I also bought myself another nativity scene this year. I’ve been looking for just the right stocking holders (not that we have stockings yet, but first things first) and I saw this one at Kohls this year. It’s perfect, since I can count it in my creche collection as well as use it for stockings. I like how it ties the religious tradition (Christmas is Christ’s birth) with the secular tradition (stockings for Santa), since I like both traditions.

I should note, however, that Raisin has informed me that Santa cannot come to our house this year. He thinks Santa is grumpy, and he asked me to write Santa a letter saying he couldn’t come. We did. Sigh. I should enjoy it while it lasts, I suppose.

My nativity scenes aren’t the most elegant, but I’m looking forward to always adding to my collection as the years pass. I used to try to say which was a favorite, but by now they all found a place in my heart and home.

Do you have any Creches to display during the holiday season? Which of these is your favorite?

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  1. Yeah I’m not sure the candlesticks I got from Bethlehem are really handcarved local olive wood either…and in Bethlehem, they don’t really bargain with you. Even with a Palestinian there with me, they wouldn’t bargain with him either. In fact, he was really angry and said we shouldn’t buy our stuff, particularly my brother, who was looking at a mother of pearl inlaid chess board…

    Back when we still lived in Wisconsin, we bought Jason’s parents a Kinder Egg nativity scene set up in the form of an advent calendar, where each day they got to eat a Kinder Egg to add the next part of the scene. 😀 And we have a playmobile advent calendar that for some bizarre reason combines a manger scene with different Santa Claus traditions from around the world (like the donkey carrying presents from Italy). Odd.

    That Little People one is awesome.

    1. Amanda,I wasn’t willing to be a bargainer! Too shy I guess.

      That reminds me that one year when I was a kid (maybe 12?) my mother and father got a white chocolate nativity scene from some one. A little bit more morbid, since you were EATING the wisemen and eventually the baby Jesus….I like the Kinder Egg idea better. But don’t get me wrong! It was good white chocolate…

  2. I love all of these! What a wonderful item to collect. We sadly do not have a nativity scene. I have been looking for one I like at the stores, but nothing has struck me yet. I do hope I find something.

    Growing up, my mom had a ceramic set that she painted herself. It was always on top of the TV stand and we were always warned not to go near it. I think a couple pieces broke, but she glued them back together. I love that set and want one just like it (which is probably why I am finding it so hard to find one of my own). It brings back so many wonderful memories of my childhood and Christmas time.

    1. Allie, aw, that’s sweet she had one she painted herself! I’m not that creative so hadn’t thought of that. Maybe I’ll have to find something I can do with my limited skills.

  3. Your collection is beautiful. And I love that you have collected them from around the world. My parents have a wooden nativity scene (complete with stable) that I used to love to set up and play with when I was a child.They also have a glass one, a set of three ornaments depicting the nativity scene, and one from Peru they brought back from a trip, but the wooden one brings back so many memories when I see it.

  4. Those are beautiful. I love your collection! My family has a traditional creche that we always put up on the mantle. When my sisters and I got to our teens, my parents decided they wanted to have a creche that represented us, so we got a new Fontanini creche, and we each picked out a girl figurine. We haven’t got any wise men, just Joseph, Mary, the baby, and a pack of girls hanging out. I love it.

  5. Those are beautiful. And hard-carved or not, I think I like the olive wood one the best.

    The creches is pretty ordinary. It’s just one my mom picked up at an after-Christmas sale so I’d have a creche. Plain white figurines. I don’t even set it out some years, only if I feel motivated to decorate. I do love creches though. I saw a wonderful collection of them from around the world at the Mormon temple in DC a few years ago. It was especially neat to see how people from different places adapted the clothing and so on to fit their cultures, like with your Bolivian set.

    1. Teresa, plain white figurines sounds very pretty me! That display sounds great. I remember going to an “around the world” display when I was a kid, but sad to say I didn’t care at the time…

  6. It’s a truly great collection. I have a tiny plastic nativity scene ornament that I believe was part of my parents’ tree before I was born. Every year I don’t feel my tree is complete until I know it’s hanging there, helping to keep my past part of my present.

  7. Ooh I love these. I just got married this year and I am hoping to collect nativity scenes. I especially love your first tiny one… it is small but gorgeous. The real reason I am commenting, though, is to get excited over your olive wood set! My mom went to Jerusalem when she was in college and so I have grown up with that exact olive wood set. To me, that is what a “real” nativity looks like. Thanks for sharing!

  8. My mother made a beautiful nativity scene and displayed it every year. My younger brother (a natural born and lovable trouble maker) loved to mix things up in the moments immediately before my grandparents arrived. Instead of Mary and Joseph, baby Jesus would wind with cross-class interracial gay parents (a king and a shepherd), and invariable one of the wise men would be carrying a gift of a tiny bottle of CocaCola that we got somewhere. Sometimes, Jesus would be replaced with a little box of raisins leftover from Halloween, or with an R2D2 Starwars action figure. Nothing could fluster my mother so!

  9. What a beautiful collection! They’re all so different. I love that each one has a story to go along with it!

    I don’t have any creches of my own, but my mother has a few beautiful ones. She favors unique ones from around the world, often a little bit abstract. They’re always such peaceful, lovely scenes.

    Merry Christmas! I hope Santa becomes un-grumpy and is allowed to visit!

    1. Erin, I always love to see others’ “abstract” nativity scenes! I’m not normally a fan of the abstract, but I do like how with a nativity scene, it’s just a personality coming out!

  10. Oh, I love the stocking hanger nativity set! You are right, it does combine the secular and sacred, but it is so beautiful! It makes the stockings part of the sacred, I’d like to think.

    I have a very traditional looking porcelain nativity set that always gets pride of place in the middle of the mantle. But the stockings end up relegated to hanging off a bookcase in the back corner.

    What a great collection!

  11. What beautiful nativities! I have many from around the world also, though they are from my husbands travels, and not my own. I have over 50 so far, and keep about 6 of my favorites up all year long, to remind me everyday of Jesus and his love for me and my family. I also have at least 10 that are ornaments for my tree as well. I am gifted a new each year by some member of my family. My only request is that they be unusual, so I have no 2 nativites that are the same.

  12. I just ran across this posting. Obviously my wife, Jean, is not the only one to reflect on a collection of Nativity sets. See adventcreches.wordpress.com.

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