A Moose on a Roof? Native-Style Christmas Nativity Scenes

Northwest Nativity website / A moose on a roof? Yes! In this fantastic Native-style Nativity scene by Fred Evangel

Tiffany Midge

Native Artists Create Their Versions of the First Christmas Nativity Scenes

As many cultures around the world celebrate the Christmas holiday, one prominent element is the Nativity scene, as described in the Bible, which depict the birth of Jesus, generally surrounded by animals, Mary, Joseph, shepherds and the three wise men. Enter — Native designed Christmas Nativity Scenes.

While Nativities — also known as Crèches — are integral to the celebration and observance of Christmas all around the world, and among many cultures, they first appeared among Native artists in the late 1950s, particularly in the Southwest.

While many Native American artists create and sell unique Nativities, non-Native artists and companies also mass produce and market them. Whether viewed as tchotchkes or knick-knacks, or as favorite holiday decorations displayed in the home, there are varieties specific to many different regions, and that appeal to many different tastes, whether religious, secular, or spiritual.

The following are just a few scenes for you to enjoy.

Cochita Pueblo Nacimientos – Louis Naranjo (1932-1997)

Born at Cochita Pueblo in 1932, Louis Naranjo and his wife, Virginia Naranjo, began making Nativity sets (Nacimientos), in the 1970s. Their figures are distinctive and incorporate Pueblo figures, and animals, such as fox, moose, and bear. The distinguishing hallmark of their work is humor. While their Nativity scenes capture a uniquely Southwestern (Pueblo) version of Christmas, they also fashioned many other types of clay figurines that depicted bikini clad men and women, mermaids, angels, storytellers, and Pueblo dancers.

The “Carved Cottonwood Family Nativity” by artist Leonard Yellow Horse

This creche is from the Pine Ridge Center for Artists and Crafters. The figures are carved from cottonwood roots from dry riverbeds on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Colorful wood carvings by Marvin Jim (Navajo)

Marvin Jim (Navajo) pays careful attention to detail and color, which makes this manger scene a bright addition to a holiday décor. There are 10 pieces including Mary, Joseph, Jesus and adoring shepherds and animals.

Santo Domingo Kewa Pueblo Nativity scene by Angel Bailon

This set is made from Pueblo clay. It includes 11 pieces, including Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, wise men, a cow, a donkey and a lamb.


Northwest-style Crèche by Fred F. Evangel

From Evangel’s studio in Albuquerque, New Mexico. One can’t help but notice the moose on the roof of the cedar-plank longhouse, and the totem poles, polar bears and seal.

Navajo Nativity

Referenced as a “Navajo Nativity,” this selection is from an exhibit of Nativity scenes that took place in Norfolk, England in 2009 as part of a Giant nativity show in a Norfolk church reported on by the BBC.

Jemez Pueblo Nativity – Caroline Sandos

This scene by Caroline Sandos, Jemez Pueblo, contains Baby Jesus, wise men, an angel, a cow, a donkey and a lamb. The Pueblo decorated wall / backdrop sets the cultural stage.

Native American Nativity scene by Rose Gomez

An example of a more commercial variety set, this piece was crafted by Navajo artist, Rose Gomez, and sold on Overstock.

Native American Nativity – Resin

This is another example of a mass produced art variety and sold on Terapeak.com. This scene borrows from the Plains culture. The animals such as the bear and the eagle appear as protectors, watchful creatures over the baby Jesus.