Thrifty Extravagance

It was time to empty our change tin the other day. This is a large biscuit tin which we put our loose change in throughout the year in order to fund some Christmas extravagances. Some of it ends up being spent on special Christmas drinks (of course), but this year, there was enough left over to add some figures to our crib scene too. We try to add one or two things each year and it grows along with our memories of Christmas as a family.

Mary and Joseph and their cat
Mary and Joseph and their cat

Some of the big nativity sets can be a bit daunting – all that work going into the figures means that they are (rightly) pricey. But getting a few bits and pieces as you go along just makes it a relatively modest once a year indulgence.

Shepherds keeping watch over their hedgehogs
Shepherds keeping watch over their hedgehogs

These figures are made by Ostheimer in Germany and are available online – we go to Spielhandlung for ours. A UK stockist is Myriad natural toys and crafts.

Of course, cribs have a long tradition of being spectacular community displays. One of our most memorable travel moments was a visit to the Via San Gregorio Armeno in Naples. As you can see from our rainy holiday snap, it’s a very narrow street, packed full of workshops making and selling wonderful crib scenes – known in Italy as Presepi.


Another great collection of crib scenes, or Krippen, that we’ve seen on our travels is in the Bavarian National Museum in Munich. They have a staggering array of the most intricate and impressive miniature landscapes, each telling the bible story in one way or another. You can see a few highlights here – I’ve linked to the text in German because they don’t include this slideshow on the English version of the site. The pictures with the caption ‘Straße in Neapel‘ are some amazingly detailed scenes produced in Naples during the 18th century.

Another intriguing tradition is the Catalan custom of including a ‘caganer‘ in the scene, a peasant with his trousers down, answering a call of nature(!). It’s a kind of, um, earthy humour (be warned when you click on the links!) pretty suitable to the story of the shepherds. You can get footballers, politicians and even the Duchess of Cambridge to add to your scene too.

We don’t manage such scatological delights, or grand scale dioramas, but our little scene that grows each year is a nice little tradition of our own – can’t wait for the new figures to arrive, or the build up to Christmas, when we carefully unwrap them and create a little tableau of our own.

6 thoughts on “Thrifty Extravagance

  1. Love the shepherds watching over their hedgehogs!

    I inherited my Grandmother’s Provencal Santon nativity, and would love to add to it – unfortunately the change box gets raided too often in our house!

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