Nativity scene concerns from Europe to US

By Robert Szostek
U.S. European Command Customs and Border Clearance Agency Public Affairs

Many European countries have a tradition of making nativity scenes at Christmas time that Americans love to buy. However, the natural products used to make them are sometimes banned from import to the United States because of the agricultural pests and diseases that could be in them.

Shoppers should note that they can be fined $100 or more if they mail scenes that contain moss, bark, wood, pine cones, untreated straw or other restricted materials. However, agriculture officials say people can send nativity scenes that are produced using finished wood, plastic, or commercially cleaned and lacquered straw (except rice straw).

Italy, for example, has a custom of recreating the nativity scene called Presepe. These representations contain miniature clay figures that craftsmen have made for hundreds of years. German nativity scenes are called Weihnachtskrippen and contain carved or ceramic figures.

The figurines themselves pose no agricultural risk and can be sent or taken stateside. However, the figures are often housed in a village setting made of natural bark decorated with peat moss.

“The bark frames or peat moss parts of these nativity scenes can contain damaging insects or quarantine pests,” said Julie Aliaga-Milos, U.S. Department of Agriculture adviser at the European Command’s Customs and Border Clearance Agency. “Therefore they are prohibited from being imported into the United States.”