Building the Nativity scene according to expert advice

Building the Nativity scene according to expert advice

Who said that setting up a Nativity scene is child’s play? It takes inventiveness, planning, a touch of dexterity and obviously the right materials. Here are the tips from our experts on how to build a great DIY nativity scene.

Making a DIY nativity scene is an interesting challenge that everyone should face sooner or later. Above all, the Nativity scene embodies more than any other Christmas symbol the deepest meaning of this wonderful celebration and helps to create in the house that hosts it an intimate atmosphere surrounded by the sense of expectation for the Nativity that is about to be renewed, like every year, in all its sweet mystery. This is why it becomes important to understand how to build a Nativity scene that knows how to express this mystery and bring it into our home, for us and for our family, who on holidays can feel a little closer to another family than in that one magical night he warmed himself in the hut of Bethlehem on the warm breath of an ox and a donkey.

And if we manage to involve the other members of the family in the setting up of the nativity scene, we will only increase that sense of communion, sharing and harmony, transforming the construction of the crib itself into a moment of play and pleasure.

We have already tried to help you in the realisation of your DIY nativity scene with short guides and tutorials to enrich it with movement effects, lights, sounds, running water, and this year too we want to help you as much as possible.

Here are the tips from our experts on how to build a truly sensational nativity scene.

How to build a DIY nativity scene

Read more:

How to build a DIY nativity scene: a mini guide
We talk about Christmas again. Lights, decorated trees, all the symbols we love so much, which comfort our hearts with the hope…

The style

What style do we want to give to our Nativity scene? This is not a trivial question. There are many types of Nativity Scenes in the world, some very far from those we are used to seeing in our homes and our cities. But also by browsing our catalogue we can realize that there are really many different styles of Nativity, from the classic Neapolitan Nativity to the wooden Nativity scenes from Valgardena, or the stylised ones made with Jerusalem olive trees, or even those made in Pyrenean stone by the nuns of the Monastery of Bethleem, France.

In general, we can distinguish the Nativity Scenes in Historical Nativity Scenes, which try to emulate the real setting of the birth of Jesus, placing it in an Arab-Palestinian scenario, and Popular Nativity Scenes, which transport the Nativity in a well-known, folkloristic setting, linked to history and the traditions of the country of origin of those who make the nativity scene, such as the Neapolitan nativity scene, just to mention one of the most famous in our country.

The style we decide to adopt will be decisive for creating the background of our Nativity scene, its architecture, and obviously for the choice of the nativity figures, which must reflect the chosen setting.

The space

Once we have established what style we want to use for our Nativity scene, the next step will be deciding where to set it up. The variables to consider are many, and not trivial. It must be a place of passage in the house in a place where visiting family and friends can easily admire it, but, at the same time, we must take care that it does not prevent the carrying out of normal daily activities, that it is not in an uncomfortable position for anyone, in conclusion.

Another important factor is the lighting. Even if we can enrich our DIY nativity scene with lights and lighting effects, it is better to choose a well-lit spot, even with natural light, or at least one that receives sufficient artificial lighting. And if we already have in mind to add lamps and coloured effects, there must be at least one easily usable electrical outlet.

An original idea that some people exploit is to build the Nativity scene inside a container: a box, a trunk, an old piece of furniture, or even a television. This allows us to take advantage of a small and limited space, to be filled creatively, creating different levels and scenarios according to our creativity.

More generally, however, those who choose to create a Nativity scene choose to use a table, the top of a piece of furniture, or in any case, a flat surface, which can then be elaborated with boxes and other supports adequately covered and ‘masked’ to create mountains and differences in height that will make the composition of the landscape more lively and varied.

We will have to establish in advance how much our Nativity scene will measure, so as not to find ourselves at a certain point, after we got carried away, to have exhausted the available space! It will also be important to take into account the height of the statues we will use: at least those in the foreground must be clearly visible at eye level, so we will have to choose the height of the base also considering that of the statues themselves. The higher they are, the lower the base can be. But beware of the puppies of the house: dogs, cats and… children, they could find irresistible a Nativity built too low!

The background for the Nativity scene

Once we have found the ideal base we will have to start creating the landscape that will host our Nativity scene. With boxes, pieces of polystyrene, books stacked and then covered with rock paper for Nativity or other pre-printed papers we can raise mountains, hills, dunes, depending on the setting we have chosen. As already mentioned, a landscape arranged on various heights will allow us to play on different perspective levels, making everything much more interesting.

If we have greater skills and dexterity, we could also choose to use papier-mâché, foam rubber, cork, wood, polystyrene adequately worked, modelled and painted according to our needs. Again, we could use chalk to create rock formations, to be made more realistic by adding real stones, earth and sand.

Once we have created our setting we will be able to take care of the buildings, first of all the nativity hut, and then any other houses, taverns, mills, everything that our imagination suggests.

In addition to the landscape, we will also have to set up a real backdrop of our Nativity scene. There are those who choose a painted landscape, some cork panels, or paper for backdrops that perhaps depicts the starry sky, or a landscape of dunes, or even LED screens.

The deconstruction into planes

When we design our Nativity scene, we can decide to create it on several levels, or rather on several perspective levels. Usually, it does not go beyond two or three floors maximum, a first floor that immediately catches the eye of those who dwell on the Nativity scene, where the most beautiful and ‘important’ statues are placed, the most detailed and accurate scenarios, and planes reaching up more bare, reduced and less rich in details, but still made with cunning, to give the impression that the whole world we have created is truly rich and surprising, in every aspect!

We will have to be very careful, when we work on different levels, not to ‘impale’ what is behind with what is in the foreground, a bit like what happens in the theatre, where the actors who play on the stage have to be careful not to cover up who stands at the back of the scene.


Although the figurines for the Nativity scene are the last thing to add, we must have in mind from the beginning which ones we intend to use, because a whole series of evaluations and decisions to be made during the production phase will depend on them. The most trivial evaluation concerns the dimensions and proportions of the scenario that we are going to build, which must be adequate to those of our figurines. This consideration becomes even more complicated if we have decided to structure our Nativity scene on different levels because in this case, we will have to have figurines of different sizes for the various levels, to create a game of effective perspective.

Another essential variable in the choice of figurines for the nativity scene is linked to the style of the nativity scene that we have decided to adopt. There must be coherence between the chosen setting, historical or popular, and the clothing and features of the characters that we will have on it. Naturally, ‘poetic licenses’ are granted: there are those who choose to take care of the scenography accurately and realistically and then perhaps opt for stylised figurines for the Nativity scene, creating a contrast that is not necessarily disturbing. We also described at the beginning of the article the fantasy and originality of certain nativity figurines made by the Neapolitan masters of San Gregorio Armeno. Among footballers and famous actors, you never know who you can find next to the Nativity hut, especially if there are children in the house!

Nativity scene lights

In our store you will find all kinds of lights for nativity scenes, from lamps to accessories for the do-it-yourself nativity scene: street lamps, lamps, fire effect bulbs and small lanterns. Not only that, but there is no shortage of plugs, transformers, extensions, incandescent lights, LEDs and even lights for Nativity scenes with neon, lamp holders, and all the electrical material that can be used to build a Nativity scene with splendid lighting effects in absolute safety.

Moss and lichen

The choice of decorating the Nativity scene with moss reminds us of an ancient but always current tradition. Who does not keep among the childhood memories a Nativity scene decorated with tufts of moss artfully arranged, to make the scenography more realistic and suggestive? In addition to moss, sand, gravel pebbles, fragments of wood were used, and for the children, it was wonderful to see those natural materials transform into decorative elements for the Nativity scene.

If things have not changed with regard to stones, wood and gravel, the situation for moss is a bit different. In some areas of Italy today it is forbidden to collect it, as it is considered a protected species. Of course, everyone is free to inquire about the regulations in force in their territory, which involve not only moss but also other plants, but the easiest, most comfortable and safe solution is to buy moss for Nativity scenes from authorised sellers. In our store, you will find a wide choice, already treated properly, dried and ready to decorate the hut and any other part of your Nativity scene in absolute safety.