How to build a DIY nativity scene: a mini guide

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 of rebirth, with the warmth of the family. We want to carry on, offering you a little guide on how to build a DIY nativity scene.

Among all the traditions of Christmas, the nativity scene is perhaps one of the most deeply rooted in our country. It is certainly one of those that most effectively expresses the Christmas atmosphere, made of warmth, domestic intimacy, ancient suggestions that are renewed every year. Perhaps it is the very origin of the crib, being the representation of the birth of Jesus, that gives it a family dimension. This is what it all boils down to, basically: the miracle of a mother, a father, a newborn baby placed in a manger. There is nothing simpler, nothing more immense.
Perhaps the deep domestic sense of the nativity scene also depends on the fact that in most homes, the nativity scene is built by the whole family gathered together. Even more than the final result, it is the setting of this scenography itself that involves everyone, especially children, to create moments of play, sharing and harmony.


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It can become an opportunity for great fun, especially if you have to put your hand to the historical decorations, handed down from grandparents, jealously kept in the cellar or attic and pulled out every Christmas. So making the nativity scene also becomes a way to rediscover one’s past, to compare oneself with oneself a few years ago and perhaps to remember loved ones who are no longer there. It is no coincidence that we remember that according to some historical sources the Catholic Nativity scene derives from the Roman tradition. In the Roman houses, there were altars built inside small niches in which statuettes made of wood, wax, terracotta was placed, depicting the protector gods of the house (the Penates) and the ancestors (the Lares familiares, or Lari). A particular tradition was consumed in the period of the winter solstice and served to strengthen the union and the values of the family. The festival was called “Sigillaria”, and all the members of the family exchanged the “sigilla”, the statuettes of the Lares and Penates. Children had to polish the statuettes and recreate a small bucolic environment where they placed them. The family then placed bowls with food and wine on offer in front, to invoke the protection of the ancestors and the gods of the house.

Even more, it can be fun and engaging for young and old to choose to make a DIY nativity scene. Also thanks to the Web today there are many tools available, and all family members can contribute by building something. Then yes, you can get a truly unique and special nativity scene! Just a little manual skills, a few tricks, and of course a lot of imagination.

A good compromise could be to make the base of the Nativity scene with recycled material, such as aluminium foil, wadding, cardboard, wood, cork, stones, gravel, and then buy in the store only those elements that are more difficult to make, or the details.

Let’s start thinking together about the essential elements for a DIY nativity scene. Then you can always have time to add an element that can make it more beautiful and particular, infinite accessories, furnishings, even fake food of great realism. This is the basis.

1 – Background for the nativity scene, landscapes and panels (starry skies, rock paper)

As with all things, even for the DIY nativity scene, you have to start from the beginning. Or, in this case, from the background. On the market, there are many types of materials perfect for creating backgrounds for the crib, from landscapes for painted cribs, to panels, from rolls of paper for backdrops, to starry skies in paper or fabric or PVC, from cork panels to LED screens. You can choose many different backgrounds, from the cheapest, easily achievable at home with a little rock paper with which we will cover boxes of various sizes, to reconstruct a mountainous landscape, with starry skies, achievable with decorated paper, or, if we have a larger budget, with a dark background illuminated with led lights or optical fibre. We can also opt for a beautifully painted backdrop, which depicts the desert under the starry sky or a beautiful Arab city.

nativity scene landscapes
Nativity scene background, landscapes and panels.
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Nativity scene backdrop
Nativity scene backdrop, greaseproof paper 70 x 100cm.
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Moulable paper for Nativity scene
Nativity background paper, cork moldable 120x60 cm.
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Moss design paper for nativity scenes
Moss design paper for nativity scenes 30x30 cm.
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2 – Moss, lichens, plants, flooring, from super cheap to the most realistic, typical nativity plants such as palm trees, the inevitable moss, stones and gravel

Even the base of our nativity scene will be crucial because we will build all our scenography on it. We can indulge ourselves with pieces of wood, gravel, sand, rocks, depending on the landscape we want to build, and also make use of very useful products that can be purchased at low prices, such as timeless moss paper or cork panels that reproduce brick walls or rock walls, light and realistic, and even pieces of resin paving to create a road pavement of great effect. If we have chosen a desert landscape, palm trees will not be missing, which will make our oasis more realistic, but also lichen trees or if we have chosen to reconstruct a more Nordic scenario, small pines.Moss, Trees, Palm trees, Floorings

3 – Control units and effects or fountains and waterfalls: either one or the other for those on a tight budget, the important thing is to amaze!

Another element that makes the nativity scene truly special is the light, sound and movement effects. Building a waterfall or river with really flowing water or a bubbling fountain in the village square is easier than you might think, using the right tools! Just a motor for the recycling of water, connected to an electrical outlet, to obtain a truly amazing effect. Or maybe you prefer to turn your DIY nativity scene into a light show. Also in this case you can choose from a wide range of slide projectors, which will make suggestive images appear and move on your backdrop, or day-night fading effects, which will imitate the alternation of sun and moon. Smoke generators are also very popular, to make lit fireplaces and fires more realistic, snow generators and for lovers of extreme realism the control units that reproduce noises, from the sounds of animals to the sound of bells.

4 – Nativity Huts and Caves: with light or with integrated fire?

If you are not very good at DIY or prefer to use a ready-made structure, you can find numerous solutions. In addition to the hut or the grotto of the nativity, perhaps with the lights already integrated, you will find truly spectacular stables, caves, huts, villages, entire villages. In some cases, these scenographies reconstructed in the smallest details are also already populated by the statuettes, such as the nativity hut with built-in fire, small but already perfect in everything.

nativity scene stable in wood
Nativity Stable, Luhe model in wood with lights and fire, for 14-15 cm nativity.
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neapolitan nativity scene
Neapolitan Nativity scene, Palestinian house.
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Nativity set accessory
Nativity set accessory, cabin-style Hut 60x30x40 cm.
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5 – Nativity statues of all types and sizes, in all possible materials and for all budgets.

Of course, once our nativity scene is set up, the figurines will play the role of absolute protagonists. We will have the opportunity to talk about it in many subsequent articles. For now, we will limit ourselves to remembering that there are also infinite solutions to make the characters of the nativity scene, some strictly do-it-yourself, with figurines cut out of cardboard, modelled in Fimo or Das or maybe crocheted. Alternatively, you will find an infinite choice of characters to populate your nativity scene on sale, from the Holy family to the shepherds, from the Magi to the animals, made with different materials and different styles, but all faithful to the centuries-old tradition of this wonderful symbol.

Nativity Scene figurines
Nativity Scene figurines: terracotta, resin and wooden figurines.
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Baby Jesus statue in resin
Baby Jesus figurine, 26 cm in resin.
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Nativity accessory, cradle in wood
Nativity accessory, cradle in wood for Baby Jesus 8x14x9cm.
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Baby Jesus figurine in pvc laying on straw
Baby Jesus figurine laying on straw, in pvc various sizes.
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