For more than 30 years, Maria Furtado and her husband have featured a presepio—an elaborate nativity scene and important Portuguese Christmas tradition—in their home over the holiday season. We visited Maria to admire this impressive, homemade creation and learn about its roots and significance for her family at Christmastime.

Can you explain how the presepio is important to Portuguese culture?
The presepio has always been part of the Portuguese culture as a Christmas tradition. Most families will set up their presepio even before decorating for Christmas.

How did the presepio become a part of your own Christmas tradition?
The presepio has been a family tradition since I was a little girl.

We understand that you made most of the presepio yourself! How long did it take to create and what materials did you use?
Over the years, the presepio has grown. This year the presepio took a little over a month to complete, using paper, sand and moss to make the display look more realistic. Some pieces are handmade and painted with clay and acrylic paint. The presepio is constructed by my husband and myself.

The presepio is so elaborate! Were the details added gradually, or has your nativity always had so many features?
Every year there are new elements that are added and so, gradually over the years, it gets more elaborate.

How long do you display the presepio in your home each year?
Usually, the presepio is completed by the third week of November and is dismantled by February 2nd. The reason for dismantling the presepio on February 2nd is that there is a celebration called “Festa De Estreleas” which is “Festival of the Stars.” People visit each other’s houses singing Christmas carols, and that is the end of Christmas.

Have you always featured the presepio as part of your Christmas tradition?
The presepio has always been featured at Christmas, as it has always been a Christmas tradition.