My Favorite Nativity Set

Have I told you about our Fontanini Nativity Set. I’m a big Fontanini fan. Have you heard of it? Fontanini figures have been designed and handmade in Italy for 110 years. They’re sophisticated looking and beautifully hand-painted, but they’re made of resin and totally kid-friendly.

They look like they could be fancy, but I don’t mind a bit when little ones play with them — and holy moly little kids are drawn to them. They’re fairly irresistible. (Especially Baby Jesus who begs to be lifted out of his manger and wrapped in their favorite blankie.)

Fontanini figures are collectibles and a collection can grow as big as you’d like. The options for new additions are pretty much endless. You can basically create the whole town of Bethlehem in Fontanini figures. Sure, there’s the stable and expected key nativity figures, but there’s also a bakery, and a drummer boy, and an elephant (because why not have one of the 3 wiseman riding an elephant?). Plus dozens, if not hundreds, of other pieces. If you’re curious, you can read about the history of Fontanini pieces here.

Our very first Christmas, 23 years ago, my mother gifted Ben Blair and me this simple nativity set — think of it like a Fontanini Starter Set, and we’ve added pieces over the years. Wisemen, shepherds, an angel, a stable (our stable isn’t an official Fontanini stable, but I like it a ton), sheep, a donkey. Most recently, a set of two camels.

There are three different sizes that you can collect — 3.5 inch scale, 5 inch scale, and 7.5 inch scale. If you start shopping, be sure you’re choosing pieces that are in the same scale. I collect the smallest ones, the 3.5 inch figures.

Fontanini is not inexpensive, and can sometimes be tricky to find, which also makes them ideal for collecting slowly. I like watching for deals in the spring when no one is thinking about Nativity sets. Sometimes you can find awesome pieces on eBay! And if you find a local shop who carries Fontanini, they sometimes clear them out in January. If there’s a particular piece you’re searching for, there are whole stores dedicated to nothing but Fontanini. You can also find them seasonally at Neiman Marcus.

Do you have a nativity set you love? Do the Fontanini figures appeal to you? Or are they too formal and sober looking? How do feel about expanding a nativity set to include not just the stable, but a whole village? 

46 thoughts on “My Favorite Nativity Set”

    1. Have you found a set that is more representative of how the holy family may have looked? I would love to know if there are sets out there, not really wedded to Fontanini.

      1. Here’s a sweet one. It seems like I’ve mostly seen either all-white with one black king, or all black. I don’t know what the original holy family would have looked like. Middle Eastern? There are also lots of sets that are depicted in all wood or plain porcelain — that might be an option if you want to avoid a European-centric set.

    2. I wonder if you could paint them, at least the hair? I used to give baby Jesus a brunette dye job on my paper Advent calendar when blonde was all we could find ; )

  1. I love all nativity sets, and I love Noah’s Ark sets too! I wonder if Fontanini makes those? My nativity set is composed of Santons I have purchased over the years in France, and I would love to have a whole village one day!

    And, like Sarah, I would love to see the holy family depicted as anything but blonde-haired and blue-eyed…which they most certainly would not have been.

    1. I think you’re the first person I’ve ever heard mention collecting Noah’s Ark sets. Is that a thing? If yes, I love the idea. Do you have any particularly good ones?

  2. About 10 years ago, my sister gave me the gift of a new collection: every year she gifts me a nativity for Christmas. Some years, it’s totally serious and elegant (Similar to your Fontanini), other years it’s a little silly (I have the Charlie Brown Christmas play set), and other years it is a very artistic rendition (Last year she gave me a very abstract one an artist made from twisted wire). I have a deep affection for nativities of all kinds. I can’t really name a favorite.

  3. Right now we have a wood set from Target’s “Wondershop” I bought four years ago that the kids LOVE. The only problem is it lacks the animals! But we talk about the people, the angels, etc. In addition, I have a really nice set my parents bought for me slowly over time. (I can’t recall the brand.) It started when I was in middle/high school and they would gift me pieces every year for Christmas. I think that’s a lovely idea and tradition I may want to continue with my own children. I love that set, but with three kiddos under 5 I didn’t put it out this year. There will be another season for it to grace our home again.

    1. I hear you. If a set is too nice — or breakable — you may need to keep it in storage when the kids are young and less likely to treat it gently. Thank goodness there are so many kid-friendly options out there.

  4. I love collecting global nativities when we travel. Such a highlight of the season to have them out. Have you ever been to the Palo Alto creche display the first weekend of December? incredible.

  5. Lovely Stephanie told me that every year her beautiful Italian mother spent weeks preparing the village path that Joseph would walk, leading Mary and the donkey along their way to Bethlehem. I think she said the display took up most of one wall.

    Hence, the Fontanini bakery and shops, or the random figures lifting lamps to light them on their way. In December, Joseph and Mary inch along the display and the baby shows up in the manger on Christmas day.

  6. My nativity sets are some of my favorite and most sentimental Christmas decorations. We have two. One is a yarn and plastic canvas set that my mom made my children when they were young. The second is one I inherited after my grandparents passed away. My grandfather made the barn (he used to add hay plucked from his real barn!) and the figures are a mishmash that they collected over the years–none of them overly precious, but yet serve as such a wonderful reminder of my grandparents and importance their faith played in their lives.

    1. The description of the set you inherited from your grandparents sounds wonderful. I love that the pieces were collected individually and aren’t necessarily matching. And I love hearing about adding hay from his barn.

  7. There are so many lovely Nativities in the world. Some of my favorite right now are from Serrv.

    I do love the idea of a Nativity that you can add to over the years. Mine is from Spain, though I do collect other “complete” Nativities. An unswaddled baby Jesus is a deal breaker for me, so that’s always the first thing I notice.

    1. My oldest asked me to wrap the Jesus in our nativity set in a blanket when she was very little. Now, we always add wrapping of some kind when we get a set that has an unswaddled baby Jesus.

  8. I started collecting the Willow Tree set when we got married, and I was obsessed with it. As time goes on, I still love it, but I do wish it was more kid-friendly. My kids love playing with my moms cheap, breakable set, and she doesnt really care when things get nicked. I did get a felt version that works for very little kids, and we have a funny rubber ducky set that I love (but is a bit irreverant) :D

  9. I like to collect nativity sets from different cultures, I enjoy seeing how personal each set is to the artist who made it. I have a very small 1.5″ domed raw marble creche from Barcelona, another clay dome- 3″ from Guatemala, a tall lithe Holy Family from Sweden, a coconut shell from Hawaii, small tin creche from Mexico…and others. Hard to choose a fav. I painted a huge plaster of paris set back in 1978 that I really like for it’s size, details, and colours, -all except ‘Mary’ who seems out of place for the natural poses of everyone else, she is kneeling straight up and hands pressed together in prayer and she is very “oval” for lack of a better word; like she was plucked from a clamshell yard shrine – very very pretty, just so unlike all the other pieces. –And this year my angel took flight, but landed poorly and broke both her wings, so now she will have scars to let her feel more human.

    I appreciate all the comments and will check out all the links!

  10. We have a wooden (made of olive wood) nativity set from Israel. My grandma had friends that traveled there often and brought back a set first for my grandparents and then over the years for their 4 children. They’re really beautiful and for a long time, I never saw another set like them in the US. But then a couple of years ago, stores like TJMaxx and Home Goods started selling them and they seem pretty popular! I like that they’re neutral, wooden, and I appreciate the story behind ours.

  11. We have an epic Fontanini Nativity set- I think it’s the 3.5″ size. We have the holy family, manger, tents for all three wiseman, the wisemen, shepherds, a veritable flock of sheep, cows, camels, and an entire village- bakery, grocer, potter, carpenter, well, palm trees, olive trees and about 3 dozen citizens of the town. I love adding a new piece every year.

    I love all the village pieces. For me, they place the Christmas story in the world; it’s not just an isolated manager and event, but for me, it makes the Christmas story more relevant and relatable.

  12. My mom collected natitivies and had a whole room with extra tables set up to display them all when I was growing up (last count was over 60!). When my parents downsized, she put her favorites on display in a China cabinet yearround. For weddings, she would always gift the bride and groom a Willow Tree Nativity. She didn’t get me one for my wedding, and I complained so she got me one that first Christmas we were married. She died in April the next year, and I’m glad I made a stink and got it! She also collected Vera Bradley purses so we joked at her funeral that everyone would get a purse with a Nativity in it as a favor.

    I currently have four on display – one of hers, one she got me from Sweden, the Willow Tree one, and one a cousin made for me.

    When I got pregnant with my first daughter, a dear family friend gave us the Little Tikes Nativity in honor of my mom. My kids also have a veggie tales version (it was also my mom’s!), one I made when I was little, and this year I recently bought one from Hallmark Baby – the figurines are wooden blocks and it’s the most diverse I’ve seen in a children’s Nativity.

    So yes, I have eight. I didn’t intend to have this many, but they remind me so much of my mom, they’ll all stay!

  13. I had a beautiful Fontanini set- 5″ figures from the 1980s. It was a larger set- the Holy Family, three shepherds, Wise Men, various animals, creche…it got lost in a move. I have no idea where it could’ve ended up, and it was the only box we ever noticed missing. Makes me a little sad every Christmas!

  14. I walked into a goodwill in Greenwich, Connecticut, and found a complete Fontanini set. I promptly put it in my cart and at checkout, the cashier told me that it was not for sale but for the store’s display!!! It was on the shelf with a price tag! (of $30). Anyway, there’s always victory and loss at the thrift store and I still cry inside when I see a beautiful Fontanini nativity and think of the one that got away!

  15. Our town had a…. eh, for lack of a better term a Nativity museum set up for a few days. Apparently all the churches in town asked people to bring them their nativity sets and then set them up at one place. It was fascinating seeing how many different kinds there where- hundreds and hundreds. We definitely saw a lot that had all the human members of the nativity looking more middle Eastern though, all different ethnicities seemed covered. They even had a section of kid friendly ones that my little guy could play with an touch! My favorite though was one that wasn’t technically a traditional nativity. Instead the figurines were obviously kids playacting the nativity (they were all dressed in 1950s outfits and had costumes on over them).

  16. We love our Ostheimer nativity set. Ostheimer is a German toy maker, so the figures are intended to be handled and played with. I chose Ostheimer because I love the look, but also because it’s a set that can be added to year by year. Because their product line extends to include fairy tale figures, families, and all kinds of animals, there are endless possibilities. This year we are adding figures to represent Elisabeth, Zechariah, and a toddler John the Baptist. Next year we will add figures to represent Anna and Simeon. I look forward to adding all kinds of other people and cultures and animals as the years go by. They have a mini crèche set, but we chose the full-size figures so that we could add on beyond the typical nativity figures.

  17. My sister’s godparents gave her the basic holy family set for her first Christmas and have given her a new piece every year since, which is so fun! My parents adopted the same practice with their godchildren and everyone loves it. Plus that way there’s no need to gift the godchildren yet another toy, which parents appreciate!

  18. Alison in Ottawa

    We have two. The one my MIL sewed from a Simplicity pattern 8776 in the 70s for her house and then she made a set for each of her four children after they all got married. I love this alot. We also have a Playmobil one which is so cute. We added extra camels and sheep for the Playmobil one.

  19. My grandma bought me a beautiful Fontanini set before I was married or had children. I love it and this post brought back how much I love having it. Thank you,

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