I make these nativities from the highest end marine grade solid PVC sheet available. PVC is the material used to make irrigation pipes. Lots of companies make this type of material, mostly for commercial exterior signage and boat parts & finishes. But the material I'm using stands above the rest. I talked to scientists at every single manufacturer of every PVC sheet on the market and I only found one company that had a PVC sheet that they would recommend for the abuse a nativity would have to endure.
Most manufacturers told me that though their PVC was marine grade, they could not guarantee it would survive in the extreme temperature ranges (particularly the cold) that a nativity would be exposed to. Many were even concerned about the sun turning their material brittle in time. Even my manufacturer would only stand behind one of the PVC sheets they manufacture. It is the most expensive one they make (it's the most expensive of all the PVC sheets on the market) but it is the one the scientists would stand behind for my application, so that is the one I use.
Each year, new products enter the market, but thus far, no material has surpassed the quality of the one I've used for 4 years now. This material is impregnated with special resins and UV filters. It won't turn yellow, ever. It is cold rolled flat. It is more dense than most PVC sheets (thus, heavier than the rest) but it is still a little lighter than plywood. It is naturally white, so there is no need to paint it. It does take paint very well though. It has a real nice matte finish that looks and feels just like professionally painted wood. (In fact, a lady who bought this nativity two years ago, when she received it in the mail, immediately emailed me because she was upset that I'd sent her wood, when she'd ordered plastic).
If there is a weakness to this material (and it is true of all PVC sheets, which is why I do keep doing the research every year) it does have a brittle point. The material I use is better than most of them, but if a corner is dropped on a hard surface, it will break/chip. So, please treat it with care. If you do, I'm confident it will really last. I expect it to last long enough to become an heirloom.
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