Celebrating Nativities, Presepe, Crèche, Bélen


My perosnal nativity - Italian carving with native American semi-precious stone fetish animals.

For most of the season, I have focused on the celebrations and traditions of Northern Europe. Today, since it falls right in the middle of the visitations of nativities in Southern European countries as well as South America and Mexico, I am sharing something I have wanted to share for the past three seasons - the beautiful nativities to be found in Italy, France, Spain, Portugal and Mexico.

The images I have chosen to illustrate the post are from flickr creative commons and are most often of nativities belonging to families.  Be sure to follow the image links found in the discussion of each country to see some of the most magnificent nativities you can imagine.

Il presepe di Micol e Enrico

Il presepe di Micol e Enrico

We begin in Italy, the acknowledged birthplace of the concept of creating a nativity - a symbolic representation of the manger scene in Bethlehem. The first nativity was created by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223 in the small mountain village of Grecio, Italy.

Today, Italians observe a period of 8 days before Christmas, known as Novena, during which they visit nativities - Precepe - which are displayed in every local church and many homes. Presepe are often placed in an elaborate wooden pyramid - the Presepe in the place of honor on the top shelf of the Ceppo, as the structure is called, and the lower shelves reserved for gifts and sweet treats. However, some people place the holy family on the lower shelf.  Traditions differ in the many regions of Italy.

Some are displayed under the Christmas tree while larger and more elaborate Ceppo are displayed in the living room.

My friend Silvia, also known in the blogisphere as Madame Renard, shares beautiful images of nativities her mother has designed and hand fashioned. You will be charmed by Silvia's mother's creativity so do yourself a Christmas favor and visit her collection.

Silvia also shares this beautiful post about a unique nativity her mother received as a gift.

And now, won't you join me and spend some time visiting the Presepe of Naples? And feast you eyes and heart on these incredible images of Presepe.


Santons (little saints) by eschige

Oh how I wish I could visit Provence, France - especially this time of year. Provence is world renown for their unique and charming Santons (little saints)  which are most often displayed in a huge nativity or creche.

Santons, little statues depicting members of the village such as the mayor, the butcher, the blacksmith began to appear during the French revolution at which time displaying a nativity (creche) was outlawed. In fact, over time, the tradition has evolved to the point that a modern family creche often includes representations of family members.

You can read more about the tradition of Santons here. And then more amazing images of French Santons here!!


original Belén by macfa cizar

From Italy, the tradition of creating a nativity scene spread throughout Europe and as it is in Italy, the nativity became the central and most important part of the Christmas celebration in Spain and Portugal.

The Spanish word for their beloved nativities is Belén and not only do they include the traditional nativity figures (the holy family, shepherds, angels, three kings) but often representations of the entire village of Bethlehem - it's people, animals, buildings, fields and farms, mountains, trees and rivers - every tool and stone! They are amazing creations and you can read a little more about them here and then - for a real treat - visit the Spanish Nativity blog and visit Belén throughout Spain.

And then, just because by now you are as fascinated and enchanted and interested as I am, check out these lovely images of unique Spanish Belén.


Portuguese municipal nativity by Joao Paula Esperança

Christmas in Portugal is focused on the nativity or Crèche, spending time with family and loved ones and preparing and enjoying a traditional Christmas dinner which is actually eaten after mid-night mass in the early morning hours of Christmas Day. It is a priority at this time of year for many families to display a crèche in their front yard to be viewed and enjoyed by friends and neighbors.

My friend Christina lives in Portugal and shares her craft on her blog Fal-arte; and last year she shared images of her own crèche which she fashioned entirely from recycled materials.

And don't miss seeing these sweet Portuguese nativities.


Mexican nativity from papier mache by tsitika

The tradition of creating extensive nativity scenes crossed the ocean with Spanish and Portuguese explorers and are to this day an integral part of Christmas celebrations in Mexico and most of South America.

Read more about customs in individual Latino countries and enjoy beautiful images of uniquely wonderful nativities in South America, and then enjoy charming images of the nativities to be found in Mexico. Angie shares images of the many statues of village folk for nativity scenes offered for sale this time of year in Mexican markets. Very reminiscent of the many figurines displayed in Spanish nativities.

Nativity Scene Nativity or Crib taken in Poland by Nick Richards

Of course nativities are an important part of the Christmas celebration in most of Northern Europe as well and for an awesome example of Northern European nativities, visit this amazing nativity (Szopka) display in Krakow, Poland! Do NOT miss this!

Nativity Scene

image by Pirate_J

Well! Quite a trip! I hope I haven't left you feeling jet lag right before Christmas!

If you know of other image links to beautiful nativity scenes, please won't you leave them for every one to see in comments.

I will be back on the winter Solstice for a visit to Iceland.

I just love nativities - and

I just love nativities - and the ones you've shown us are just wonderful! As usual, your blog is a huge source of information and fascination - thank you! You do an amazing job!

Pam, Thank you for writing

Pam, Thank you for writing about my mum's nativity!

Beautiful! Here's a photo I

Beautiful! Here's a photo I took a couple years ago of a corn husk nativity my brother brought me back from Bolivia.

Since then I've received a soapstone one from Mexico from my mom. Sounds like I have a good post for next year. ;)

Elizabeth thank you for

Elizabeth thank you for sharing your beautiful nativity from Bolivia here in comments so everyone could see how unique it truly is.  I understand from a friend in Mexico that it is not uncommon in Central and South America to make nativity scenes using corn husks.

And YES!  You must most definitely share your soap stone nativity. Mark it in your blog post planner right now!

This is a wonderful look at

This is a wonderful look at the nativities of the world! Ryan and I just went to an exhibit yesterday about Christmases of the World and it shared many country's decorations and traditions. There were quite a few nativity sets and it was so interested to read about how different they all are. Great post! :)

Pam, this is such a beautiful

Pam, this is such a beautiful and thoughtful post. I love the inclusive nature of your site, and how much I learn. Remember a couple of years ago I received some Santons and shared them on my blog? I didn't even know what they were, but you quickly answered my question!

I still believe you can answer any question I might have.

I'll be back for some advice about my puppy. She's an ornery critter.