Minimalist Nativity set from Germany

One of the Christmas traditions that Marlon and I both grew up with was the belen, or Nativity scene. It was easy for us to agree on having a belen in our home during the holidays—what wasn’t easy was finding one that we both liked. Most of the Nativity sets we saw (in the Philippines and Germany) were either too old-fashioned or elaborate for our tastes.

Well, after nearly five years, the search is over! We finally found our minimalist nativity set last weekend at the Aachen Christmas market.

Hand carved wooden nativity scene1

I was browsing with my friend Leslie in a store called Käthe Wohlfahrt, which sells traditional German Christmas ornaments. As soon as I saw this hand-carved wooden belen, I fell in love. Clean, simple, no fuss—just the way I wanted it. I brought Marlon back with me to see it, and he was equally charmed.

Hand carved wooden nativity scene3

The small size is perfect for apartment dwellers like us. Though the figures are tiny (no taller than my pinkie), they’re all mounted on one piece of wood, making them less likely to be misplaced. They have a young, Playmobil kind of feel that I like… suited to the kids that (I think) Marlon and I still are in many ways. Plus, it fits this year’s minimalist theme at home, too.

Hand carved wooden nativity scene2

Part of what made our belen search difficult was my tendency to be particular about faces and expressions. These ones, I like. They’re fairly neutral without being dead, and cute without being cheesy.

Hand carved wooden nativity scene-Mary and Baby Jesus

This scene doesn’t include the Three Wise Men, but that isn’t a huge deal. The shepherds and angels were the first on the scene anyway. Besides, I couldn’t resist these tiny adorable sheep!

Hand carved wooden nativity scene-sheep

Our little family is still figuring out and making up its Christmas traditions, but now this minimalist Nativity set has become part of it. I’m happy that this year, another piece of the puzzle has fallen into place with a quiet click.

Did you grow up with a Nativity scene at home, or do you have one now? I’d love to hear about it!

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Aachen Christmas market

Visiting Christmas markets in Germany is becoming an annual holiday tradition—and one that I really love! After visiting Cologne last year (a major city with eight Christmas markets), I was in the mood for something more low key. So last weekend, Marlon and I rented a car with our friends Leslie and Tobias, and made the three-hour drive to Aachen, a German town right next to both the Netherlands and Belgium.

Aachen’s Weihnachtsmarkt, or Christmas market, is spread out over two of the most central places in town: the Markt and the Katschhof, a square between the cathedral and the town hall.

Aachen Christmas market

This charming town is known for hard, flat cookies called Aachener printen, which are everywhere this time of year. Giant printen men (not to be confused with gingerbread men!) are the mascots of this particular market.

Aachen Christmas market gingerbread man

While Aachen is smaller than Cologne, the market was crazy packed. Our friends had a one year-old in a stroller and had a pretty difficult time of it (because of both the crowd and cobblestones), so this might be a better choice for families with older children. I would love to come back here with Little Mango when she’s no longer so little, if only to see her on this awesome carousel that has vintage bikes and sports cars, helicopters, a Vespa, police car, even a fire truck with a ladder!

Carousel Aachen Christmas market

With no decorations at home and Holland preoccupied with Sinterklaas, strolling around Aachen’s Christmas market was just the thing I needed to get me into holiday mode. Especially when it snowed!

Snow at Aachen Christmas market

Plus, I got to do all three of my top must-dos for any German Christmas market. Read on to find out what they are.

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