Published: 12-12-2012, 05:10

Nativity Scene: The United States

Nativity Scene

Nativity Scene: Origins

Early Nativity Scenes

Nativity Scene: Southern Europe

Nativity Scene: Latin America

Nativity Scene: Central Europe

In the eighteenth century German Moravian immigrants brought this custom with them to the United States. The Moravian Nativity scenes, called putz (from the German word for “decorate”), spread out in extravagant detail. Dozens or hundreds of figurines might be placed amidst gardens, fountains, arbors, villages, streams, bridges, waterfalls, and other delightful scenery. These elaborate designs might take up an entire room. In Pennsylvania many German Americans, particularly those in areas settled by Moravians, maintain the custom of “putzing” and “putz-visiting.” The town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, founded by Moravians, builds a community putz every year. On one occasion the builders used 800 pounds of sand, 64 tree stumps, 12 bushels of moss, 40 evergreen trees, and 48 angels in the creation of the community putz.

In past years many towns throughout the United States erected Nativity scenes at Christmas time. Recently these displays have provoked controversy. Questions regarding the separation of church and state, as well as vandalism, have led many towns to abolish public Nativity scenes. Nevertheless, many families and churches continue to enjoy this old Christmas custom.