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How to Create a Christmas Village Display

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Step by step instructions on how to create a Christmas village display as a family tradition. Included are money saving tips and a step by step video!

Christmas village display with step by step tutorial

One year as a young bride I discovered the beauty of collecting miniature houses for Christmas.

Chalkboard Banner from Wood Slices - Marty's Musing

I had my family buy several of the Dickensville ones at half price at the end of the season and give them to me for my birthday.

2013 Christmas Home Tour from Marty's Musings

Slowly my little Christmas village display grew and grew until it became this lovely town full of family memories.

 Christmas Village Display Ideas from Marty's Musings

We keep the village in large storage tubs marked specifically for this purpose in our storage building outside.

A green box on a table

Before we had these bookcases by the front door our village was wider and longer, but now it has been “downsized” to fit into the space right inside our front door.

A room with a book shelf filled with books

Over the years we have developed a system to all the madness that is our way of greeting visitors and family alike into our home.

Here’s my DIY husband Tim to tell you how to create a Christmas village display!

Steps for creating your own Christmas village:

  1. Select appropriate size of plywood for your base.
  2. Determine placement of houses and cut circles.
  3. Put paper plates underneath saw horses.
  4. Attach plywood to saw horses.
  5. Cut holes in a flat white sheet and set in place.
  6. Attach street lamps to wood.
  7. Set houses in place and pull all electrical to underside of plywood.
  8. Add your own special touches and accessories.
  9. Throw on the snowflakes!

(If you’d rather watch a video tutorial just click below!)

How to Create a Christmas Village Display

Materials:

(I’ve included some affiliate links for your convenience.  Click here to read my full disclosure policy.)

Christmas Village houses (Department 56 Dickens’ Village is a popular one or Lemax Village is another one)
Department 56 Dickens Village people or Lemax Village people 
Street lamp set
Village brick street
Snow cover buffalo blanket
Styrofoam snow (our kids’ favorite part!)
Flat white sheets
Candy stripe red fabric 
Burlap ribbon
Heavy duty staple gun

Step 1. Select appropriate size of plywood for your base.

From my DIY hubby: The foundation of our Christmas village is this piece of 1/2″ plywood that has been trimmed and modified over the years to accommodate every little nuance in its construction.  

It has rounded corners for safety, holes large enough to push electrical plugs through and connecting grooves cut to hide extra wires.  Some final markings to help and here we go!

Christmas village

Step 2. Determine placement of houses on the plywood and cut circles. 

This step isn’t pictured but the holes will vary depending on the number of houses you have.

One year our oldest daughter drew out the placement of the houses, and it’s so helpful!

Diagram

After 150 many years of doing this we really don’t need the instructions anymore, but it still makes me chuckle that at one point we needed them.

A close up of a logo on a wooden surface

Step 3. Put paper plates underneath two saw horses.

This part of the process is under my jurisdiction; specially sized saw horses are cleaned and brought inside and placed on paper plates.  

We used to do this when we had carpet to protect it from the muck on the legs, but now it’s to protect the flooring.  It also helps the whole set-up to slide around, kind of like glides.  

Step 4. Attach plywood to saw horses.

The plywood is screwed into the saw horses, where marked (of course), which prevents any shift and a catastrophic collapse.  At one point we had cats that loved to jump onto our village and terrorize the town folks!

A wooden cutting board, with Christmas village

This makes sense when you see the finished product, but this is looking down Main Street, with houses and shops on either side.  The road is lined with streetlights that are stapled to the board and the extra wiring is pulled through the slots to the underside of the table.

Each house has a light (actually a night light sized bulb and retaining clip) and that cord is pushed through the holes.

Christmas village 

Step 5. Cut holes in a flat white sheet to match the plywood and set in place.

The next step is to place a flat white sheets over the plywood that has matching holes cut where they fall in the plywood.  Again, this is to allow for all the electrical connections to be made and hidden under the village.

Christmas village and Wood

It is important to get the right side up and the left side right…see what I mean?!

Christmas village and Wood

Step 6. Attach street lamps to wood.

Perhaps the most ratty part of our little community is the street lamp set.  There have always been 24 in Dickesnville, but they really take a beating year to year.  

We used to drive screws through the bottom of the plywood and push the lights onto the screw to hold them in place, but, alas, one year they had to be replaced and the set-up changed.  

Now we just staple them to the board on either side with a heavy duty staple gun and pray they stay in place.  These lights will not be with us next year and their upgrades are already in storage!

Christmas village and Street

Unseen here is my son under the board pulling the extra wire between lights through the sheet and those grooves in the plywood.  Everything gets hidden!

Christmas village and Wood

 And the lights are in place…wow, these things have really been abused.

Christmas village

Step 7. Set houses in place and pull all electrical to the underside of the plywood.

This is where having a diagram is so important! When you’re making a Christmas village as a family, the less decisions the better!

Step 8. Add your own special touches.

One of the more clever ideas was using a roll-up street that we found at Lowe’s one year.  It is similar to that magnet material and looks just like a brick street when finished.  

For sidewalks we use sandpaper cut into strips and placed where appropriate.

A room with many items on the counter

Step 9. Add all the accessories.

Here the houses and shops have been placed, but we are far from done!  There are trees and people, carolers and snowmen, ice skaters and sledders, vendors and town folk soon to follow.

Christmas village

Step 10. Throw on the snowflakes!

This is the moment when everyone is called back in to participate – the throwing of the snowflakes!  It has always, always been our children’s favorite part.  

This happens after everything has been placed and the buffalo snow blanket covers the ground.  

If you look really close you can see our new touch this year – smoke coming from chimneys!  We’ve never done that and my son came up with the idea to use a sticky dot and wispy cotton to achieve the effect.  It’s very cute!

Christmas village and decoration

So this is the moment captured!  It is snowing like crazy…no global warming in Dickensville!

Christmas village

Step 11. Cover plywood with fabric and create a backdrop if desired.

The final touches are the candy stripe skirt (similar fabric here) stapled to the edge of the board and a very clever use of burlap ribbon from my wife.  

We also decided to hang a sheet behind the village this year to hide the bookshelves.  It helped with pictures but also gave all the focus to one of the essentials in our Christmas season…Dickensville!  

Push everything into place (VERY carefully) and we are done!

2013 Christmas Home Tour from Marty's Musings

Our Dickensville village greets Christmas visitors to our home both day and night.

2013 Christmas Home Tour from Marty's Musings

Marty: The funniest part of this process is watching the kids bicker discuss the correct placement of all the people and whether some of the houses got too much snow!

This may be my village, but it’s a family tradition and a wonderful way to welcome folks into our home.

Christmas village and House

You can find all the instructions for making my DIY chalkboard banner with wood slices here. It adds a nice touch above the Christmas village display.

Chalkboard Banner from Wood Slices - Marty's Musing

Are you interested in more thrifty Christmas decorating ideas? Check out my 10 ways to use extra Christmas ornaments and 5 cheap Christmas decorations for a simple authentic home.

What are YOUR favorite ways to decorate for Christmas on a budget?

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64 Comments

  1. I think your village is lovely and a wonderful family tradition. I am smiling (and giggling too) at Tim’s play-by-play of how village construction happens. You guys are hardcore.
    Now, which of you has a degree in city planning? Maybe you could lend your expertise to the city of Greensboro!
    Now, where did you find your snow? I need to get some for a last-minute craft.

    1. He’s gotten pretty good at those tutorials, hasn’t he? I tell him to dumb it down for people like me 🙂 It really has evolved over many, many years and was the source of much consternation! Bickering on where the houses went and who had to crawl under the table and hook up the houses. Busy and crazy and funny! That’s our family.

      Working for the city? Would it be a steady paycheck? The snow that you sprinkle can be found at Michael’s or maybe even Target. The snow drifts come in bags from a craft store as well. We recycle them as much as we can. You know me. Thrifty to the core!

      1. We just had to put my mom in a nursing home. Your post brings happy and sad tears to my eyes. My parents did a very similar design for their Dickens Villages – they absolutely loved decorating and sharing it with friends. I now have all of her villages – most ALL of the original ones in the boxes that I am selling to help with the cost of her nursing home. If you know of anyone that wants to continue the tradition and is looking for the Dickens Villages, please let me know.

        1. Hi, Lori. I’m so sorry about your mom. I went through all that with my parents and it’s just unimaginably hard. Have you tried selling your houses on Craigslist? That would be my suggestion or even put it on your facebook page if you have one. Good luck!

        2. Do you still by chance have any pieces to your village? I know im late to reading this post but I just got my own apartment and I’m looking to recreate some of the scenery I used to cherish as a little girl that my mom would put together. I’m excited about starting my own collection and maybe even start my own tradition with my children. Thanks in advance. God bless!

          1. Hi, Angel. SO sorry for the late response. I do still have my entire village but I’m going to pass it down to my kids. Good luck with your collection and buy on sale after Christmas if you can!

  2. I love your village. I had started collecting houses and we had a flood and they were broken. I wondering if a you could use dreft or epson salts would work for the snow, just wondering.
    God Bless and a Merry Christmas!

    1. Hi, Shirley. I’m so sorry you had a flood in your home. That’s heartbreaking. As far as epsom salts or dreft, I’m not sure. We reuse what we can of the snow drifts and I don’t know if the salts would get sticky during the year when it’s stored. You could probably google it 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Awesome planning and layout. I see how having the plan makes it so much easier and less of a hassle. I’m going to see what I can do for ours next year.

  4. i have several houses and stuggle with setting them up – this is brilliant. just for a sense of perspective – what are the dimensions of your board. thank you

  5. I was just wondering about the lights you use. That has been my issue, trying to figure out the best to choose. Any suggestions would be welcome. Your village looks lovely!

    1. Hi, Kathy. Here’s some info from my husband: We have really been round and round with our street lights over the years! Some things worked and others…not so much. Here’s what I can pass along from our experience.

      First, my preference is NOT to use battery powered lights. Our entire village is on a light switch-controlled outlet and that is so convenient! The downside of using a string powered by an AC adapter is that you have to buy the lights AND the adapter. All our light cords and adapter cords run through and under the board everything sits on, so fishing out a battery pack wasn’t an option.

      The biggest problem we have had is how to make those boogers stand up straight! The fact that the wires come out the bottom makes this very difficult. For a long time, we drove screws up from the bottom of the board (plywood base) where each light would be located (per the pattern marked on the underneath side!) and then jammed each light down onto the screw. It was a great fix for awhile, until those strings eventually had to be replaced and the new ones were made differently. We than resorted to stapling the lights down on each side, pinching the wires under the staples. This also worked for awhile but those little light posts are very fragile and stapling (construction stapler, not an desk stapler) too close can snap the tops. Additionally, stapling through the wires is not good…repeatedly.
      This is our current method of installation, but our village sometimes looks more like an earthquake site than a peaceful burb in the foothills! At one time I had considered mounting each light on some kind of base, like a large washer, but still couldn’t get around the wires coming out of the bottom.

      I think the lights were used were made by Noma, but not sure you can find them anymore. I would stay away from the ones at craft stores, like Michaels, and the dollar deals. I believe there are heavier metal ones available at higher end Christmas shoppes, but a bit too pricey for me.

      Hope this helps! Good Luck and Merry Christmas!

      1. Frustrations plus with street lights! I tried many ways with out any luck. But I finally used large washers and just slipped them over the street lights and some figures and small pieces I hot glued the washer on. All my wires and washers are hidden by Buffalo snow. This takes patIents but I love to see the finished look. I wasn’t able to set my village up this past Christmas so my daughter said she would do it when she came. It just didn’t feel the same. That village has become a part of me. I have predominantly Lemax brand.

        1. Hi, Mary. Yes, those street lights can be a pain! My husband or older kids always took care of that little detail! Glad you found something that worked for you!

  6. The biggest challenge every time I set up my display is lights. Landscaping is sometimes difficult but the lighting thing is my greatest challenge. Since I have thousands of pieces, and it fill two large rooms and it changes as the collection grows and each season I try to get different effects. Love to see posts of other peoples villages.
    Merry Christmas

    1. I have a snow village and set up is easy except for those street lights. I use batting sprinkled with snow flakes for my base . I roll it up each year and reuse . But Street lights and even fences topple over . I just quit using the street lights because they wouldn’t stay upright . I will now try at least putting holes in the batting for the bases and if that doesn’t work , I may try the plywood . Thx for sharing and inspiring others! Great set up!

    2. I am trying to set up my village pieces in a curio cabinet with glass shelves. There are 5 shelves and I am not sure where to start. How to display each shelf. if you could help with suggestions I would greatly appreciate it. Thank You Cathy

      1. Hi, Cathy. If you use lights for your collection you really have to figure out cords ahead of time. To me, that would be the first thing to do and a way to keep the cords hidden so they don’t distract from the visual look of the village. Then I’d just figure out the grouping of houses and accessories the way they’re most pleasing to you. It’s totally an individual choice! Hope this helps!

  7. could you use a mixture of “faster plaster” to make a larger base for your street lights? A small amount can be mixed in an old plastic dish and a bit of the mixture put on waxed paper (about 1.5 inches in diameter) and let set for a SHORT time, then place the street light in the plaster. Hold the street light straight up until the plaster sets up enough to keep the light upright. I did this with some of my small Christmas trees that had a small base.

    1. Hi, Joyce. Thanks for the suggestions for our Christmas display. I’ll keep them handy for when Christmas rolls around next year. Have a great week!

  8. Love you village. Do you mind if I lift your son’s idea of using cotton for smoke from the chimney? Very clever.
    Street lights are hard to deal with. I have thought about using a paint stir stick (painted white) and gluing the lights to the stick. Haven’t tried it yet and also thought about gluing the lights to metal jar lids and then I thought hey, why not try magnets with the metal lids……

    I think I know why cats love villages. While we are “petting” the houses and the layouts, they jump up there to get petted, too.! Same with keyboards.

    Thanks for taking the time to share your village. Very nice. Wondering about your thoughts on ponds.
    Mirrors or store bought streams and ponds?

    Jan

    1. Hi, Jan. Thanks so much for the compliments. I’m glad you like our village. Of course you can use my son’s ideas and any other ones you like. Cats can definitely be tricky around villages and decorations! We always just use a mirror for our pond, preferably one from the dollar store so it’s inexpensive. Have a wonderful Christmas!

  9. You are my village hero! One of my favorite parts of decorating as a kid was helping my mom display the village. We had a grand piano and turned the top of the piano into the village. There were ice skating rinks, lots of snow … so fun. My mom gave me her village last year and I have it all up this year. It’s so fun to see it every year!

    1. How sweet that you have your childhood village, Kim! Because you know, you NEED more Christmas decorations! I actually didn’t even put up the village this year because I’m storing tubs full of the beginnings of my kitchen cabinets in its place. Merry Christmas to me, new kitchen here we come!

  10. Lovely village! Is it safe to leave the lights in your houses on continuously or do you use timers? I have always used timers but would prefer to leave them on all the time.

    1. Hi, Carolyn. We always cut off our village at night when we go to bed but I don’t see a reason why you can’t leave them on. The houses use a night light bulb so it’s low wattage. Use your discretion and what you feel comfortable with. Merry Christmas!

  11. Very nice display. You might try a spot of quality hot glue to hold the lamp posts in place. It should hold well enough to get you through the season and will peel off easily when you want to take down the display. You could still staple the wires down for a little extra support, but the lamp posts should stay upright.
    I certainly don’t wish to intrude on your outstanding setup, but since you’ve put so much into it, I’d like to offer two ideas I’ve used in the past. First, you might use a black cloth for the backdrop, behind which you can attach a small string of white miniture lights (I used battery operated lights as they weren’t so bright). This gives the effect of stars in the sky and the contrast makes the village stand out more. Second, you might raise up the rearmost buildings a bit by placing them on another layer, or two, of plywood. This worked well for me, though I simply used foam panels (I could shape them easily, but they were very tempoary) to raise the buildings. This will make those rear buildings a bit more visible. Thanks for sharing your wonderful display.

  12. I love your Christmas Village, so beautiful!! I have been trying for years to come up with a good one. My Momma gave me hers because she can’t do it anymore. So, I’m trying now to figure out how to make a good one that can go in a very small living room. I have to take out just enough furniture for my tree. Y’all are amazing and I love the quality family time.

    1. Hi, Melissa. I’m glad you enjoyed our village. We’ve recently taken down a wall between our living room and kitchen so we’re not sure where we’re going to put the village! Yikes! I’m not ready to pass it down and my children don’t want it yet so I’ll have to figure that out before Christmas! Thanks for reading!

  13. Love your ideas! Am starting a small size village with a train this Christmas. Am curious what you are doing your village this year? I was hoping to find a way to use LED bulbs inside the houses with a switch or even better a remote control! However it doesn’t seem things are quite there yet. Dropping cords down holes seems most effective but having no cords would be even better. Any ideas of other ways to do cordless? The LED tea candles will not work as my entrance for lighting has all holes on the bottom and base of tea light won’t fit. The retrofit are to long. Am I stuck with cords?

    1. Hi, Michelle. I’m so sorry I didn’t get a notification of your comment. We just use night light bulbs for our strands that go in the houses. Not sure if that answers your question. Just reply if it doesn’t!

  14. I love your village Marty!! It’s great that you have put in a step by step guide. As it has been very helpful for me to develop my own little village.
    Very little by your standards though. If someone wants help with snow. I found a very simple recipe on Pinterest just mix 500mg of bicarbonate soda and half a can of cheap shaving cream and then add white glitter. It turned out great!!!!!!!!

    1. Hi, Jodie. Thanks so much for the snow recipe. What a clever idea! Since we remodeled our kitchen and our living room is now an open space I didn’t have room for my big village this year. So I did a little one in our den. Haven’t figured out what I’ll do in the future because I’m still super attached to it! Merry Christmas!

  15. Love your site. It is very helpful and encouraging. I wanted to pass along my solution for making the electric street lights stay in place. Peel and stick Velcro. One part on the underside of the lamppost and the other half attached to the plywood. The sheet with the cut outs for the lampposts hides it well. No more damage to the lamp bases. Hope this helps someone.
    Thanks again,
    Susan

    1. Hi, Susan. I love this solution. Thanks so much for sharing! We’ve remodeled our living room/kitchen and taken down a wall and I haven’t figured out where to put my village. I didn’t put it up last year except for a few pieces and I need to decide what to do!

  16. Many years ago, mom gave me her two Christmas village pieces she had purchased. For the last 20 years or so, my family has been purchasing unpainted ceramic houses and have painted them and created our own Christmas Village. We set it up every Christmas and still add pieces to it. We mark our names and date on the bottom of each house, too! Our married daughter, has started her own village now, too, painting her own collection. This is a wonderful hobby that will be treasured and passed on to our children.

    1. Hi, CJJ. Thanks so much for the compliment! Our village has been collected through the years and is definitely pretty! Enjoy your holiday season!

  17. When do you put down buffalo snow before or after you place people, trees, etc….?????

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