Holiday villages are a flexible tradition for many families

Whether in cardboard, wood or porcelain, little villages — with houses, shops, miniature figures and snowy fir trees — have long been part of many families' holiday decorating tradition.

They're also popular now as part of an ongoing love of the cozy and the do-it-yourself.

“Nostalgia is at the forefront of holiday decor this year,” says Dayna Isom Johnson, a trend expert at the crafts site “So it's no surprise that tiny Christmas villages are trending.

“From classic scenery with snowy layers to modern ceramics with clean lines, families are putting their creative spin on this decades-old tradition,” she says.

Little 19th century-style villages came to America with European immigrants and were further popularized by the father of five-and-dime stores, F.W. Woolworth, who sold tiny German-made cardboard houses.

In the 1970s and '80s came ceramic houses; the company Department 56 began making their popular ones in 1976 and still do today. These sturdier buildings were easy to store seasonally.

Robin Zachary, who works as a prop stylist on commercial photo shoots, has amassed a collection of vintage cardboard houses, matchbox cars, bottlebrush trees and little people that she likes to set up for the holidays in her New York City home.

She advises checking out model train shops for accessories: “The scale is perfect for a holiday village vignette.”

She also suggests using fake snow to dress your display, “with a dash of silver or gold glitter mixed in, and snips of fresh evergreens placed in tiny containers.”

And if you've got limited space for a holiday display?

“I'd create a village as a centerpiece on a dining table or console,” Zachary says. “A large platter can serve as the base, lined with fake snow and fresh evergreen branches that encircle your village. That's easily moved if you need to use the space temporarily.”

Sarah Fishburne, Home Depot's director of trend and design, says fireplace mantels and side tables also make great display spots for mini Christmas villages.

“You could also place one on the floor surrounding your Christmas tree, or distribute your pieces throughout a bookcase,” she says.

If you're making a Christmas village yourself, Fishburne says, get everybody in the family involved, whether decorating a miniature tree, assembling a little structure or adding other personal elements.

You'll find sets of unfinished wood and cardboard miniature houses online; you add the paint, washi tape or other decorative trim. Some will fit nicely over a battery-operated tea light to glow in the evenings.

Kelly Mandell, a DIY blogger in Los Angeles, transformed birdhouses into a modern holiday village using pastel-hued craft paint and loads of glitter. Drifts of fluffy snow and colorful bottlebrush trees added to the playful vibe.

Another creative option: a village of snow globe houses. Buy ready-made ones, or make your own using clean jars, distilled water, a droplet of glycerin to suspend your tinsel glitter, and then whatever elements you'd like to attach to the jar lid. Cyd Converse, a DIY blogger in Watertown, New York, shares a how-to at

You might even weave village elements into the branches of a wreath, Fishburne suggests.

Beyond the traditional, Dickensian look, Fishburne suggests creating a vignette that reflects your family's favorite activities. Are you all ice skaters? Do you love to bake? Is a visit to grandparents a holiday must? You could depict these things in your village display with mementos and other items.

Or get inspired by the places you've visited on your travels. Fishburne says her family always brings home a little building or other miniature from a destination.

Etsy makers offer a variety of creative and decorative miniatures to bring a holiday scene to life, and retailers have a wide selection.

Balsam Hill's plywood Victorian village has intricately carved houses, trees and street elements integrated into a single base. A remote controls the warm backlighting. There are little houses with a sturdy hook to use as stocking holders, too.

If your vibe is contemporary, West Elm, for instance, has a collection of ceramic-and-wood, minimalist buildings and trees. Or create your own modern neighborhood with ceramic ranch houses and split levels, from Crate & Barrel. All will glow nicely at night with some battery-operated tea lights.

Anthropologie has shelf-ready wooden monogram letters carved with vignettes of snow revelers and evergreens.

Finally, if there's no space for a 3-D display, Zachary suggests a different kind of family craft project: a village mural of sorts.

“Why not have the kids draw and decorate houses, then pin them up in a row on the wall? Make sure they make some trees, as well as any of your town's significant buildings,” she says. “You can pin up a glittery garland of stars or fairy lights above the skyline.”

• New York-based writer Kim Cook covers design and decor topics regularly for The Associated Press. Follow her on Instagram at @kimcookhome.

Crate & Barrel's collection of white ceramic buildings includes alpine homes and hotels, as well as midcentury split levels and ranch-style houses. Courtesy of Crate & Barrel/Via Associated Press
Add a tea light for a welcoming glow to this Crate & Barrel Christmas collection. Courtesy of Crate & Barrel/Via Associated Press
Crate & Barrel's collection of white ceramic buildings includes alpine homes and hotels, as well as midcentury split levels and ranch-style houses. Courtesy of Crate & Barrel/Via Associated Press
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