A Christmas village (or putz) is a decorative, miniature-scale village often set up during the Christmas season. These villages are rooted in the elaborate Christmas traditions of the Pennsylvania Dutch. Mass-produced, cardboard Christmas villages became popular in the United States during the early and mid 20th century, while porcelain versions (especially those created by the company Department 56) became popular in the later part of the century.
The tradition of decorative Christmas villages is rooted in the holiday traditions of the Pennsylvania Dutch. In early-colonial American Moravian homes, the construction of a nativity scene or “putz” at the base of a Christmas tree was a very common holiday activity. The term “putz” was derived from the German verb “putzen”, which means “to clean” or “to decorate.” These nativity scenes soon became very elaborate and often included sawdust or fine dirt spread to represent roads leading to the manger, stones and fresh moss to represent grottos or caves, and sticks and branches to represent miniature trees. These details were in addition to the carved wooden figures which represented the Holy Family, animals, shepherds, and other traditional nativity figures.
By the mid-19th century, more secular figures and scene elements were being added to the “putz.” In many homes, the “putz” took more time and energy than the decoration of the family Christmas tree. Separate areas were developed with different themes. Spreading outward from the Nativity scene were other farms or village scenes which had a way of growing larger and more elaborate every year. Eventually, toy trains were added to these miniature worlds.