How to Set Up Your Nativity Scene

Time spent trimming the Christmas tree and decking the halls presents a wonderful opportunity to reflect upon the true reason we celebrate Christmas—the birth of Jesus. Displaying a traditional Nativity scene, or crèche, in your home provides a beautiful reminder of the meaning behind the season. Arranging a manger scene allows you to explore the story of Christmas each year, but is there a right or wrong way to do it? Start this tradition as a family with confidence following our tips, and allow it to stand as a blessed reminder of the reason we celebrate Christmas.

The tradition of displaying a manger scene is ancient: the original was created in 1223 by St. Francis of Assisi, who wished to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. As these displays spread through Europe, they grew from Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus to include more characters as time went on.

Collect your Nativity figurines. Nativity scenes, while they come in a multitude of styles, all share the same elements—baby Jesus nestled in a manger with Mary, his mother, gazing upon him, and Joseph beside him. In addition to the little family, a common display may include a number of other figures such as shepherds and sheep, the Three Wise Men with camels, angels, and other animals—but the heart of the scene is always the birth of Jesus as described in Luke and Matthew.

The style of figurines you choose for your display is not as important as their meaning. Whether you’ve collected Willow Tree Nativity Figurines, have been entrusted with a family heirloom, or build a Nativity with treasured pieces your children have made from paper, dough, or even their toy figurines, the intention is the same—to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Create an opportunity to grow in your faith. As you arrange your Nativity, take some time to reflect upon the biblical Scriptures that describe this wondrous event. Gather the family together to read the story of Christmas and encourage your children to place the figurines in their designated spots as you reach the point of their arrival in the story. Add some entries in your Bible journal. Explore the verses within the Bible or choose an Advent devotional or activity to add meaning to the holiday season.

Choose a spot to display your Nativity. You can place your scene on a table, a mantle, in the yard, or in front of your Christmas tree. A scene positioned before a Christmas tree allows for a grand display. Imagine your available space to extend the scene upward with angels, stars, bells, and doves hanging on the tree—the possibilities are endless. A stable, barn, or other enclosure often surrounds the figurines, but any backdrop suggests the idea of a shelter for the little family.

Arrange the Nativity figurines. Baby Jesus should always be at the center, with Mary standing protectively close beside him or cradling him in her arms. Joseph should be placed on the opposite side of baby Jesus. Next, group the shepherds together with their sheep on one side, and the Three Wise Men and camels on the other. Avoid putting angels, animals, or additional figures in front of the holy family as they should not distract from the focus of the scene.

Some may choose to designate a single evening to set up the manger scene as a family. Hot cocoa and peppermint sticks, the Bible, and family all come together to recreate the story of Jesus’ birth. Others may arrange their Nativity over the span of a few nights to represent the timing of each group’s arrival. Whatever your preference for adding figures, there is a customary arrangement of characters to observe. The timing of placement is noted for those who wish to stagger the arrival of figures.

>When you begin decorating, set up the shelter, manger, and a few animals to set the scene
>On Christmas Eve, add Mary and Joseph to either side of the manger, with Mary closest
>Celebrate the birth of Christ by adding baby Jesus on Christmas day
>Some may choose to replace Mary with a figure that is cradling baby Jesus
>Next, the shepherds and their sheep join the scene, standing further away from baby Jesus than Joseph and Mary do
>Then add these other figures if you wish:

>An angel, or angels, hover over or stand within many Nativity scenes
>Nativities throughout history, as well as numerous Christmas carols, include an ox and donkey
>If you include the Magi, or Three Wise Men, consider the time they took to travel to Bethlehem and add them after Christmas in order to demonstrate the passing of time. Some wait until Epiphany, or Three Kings' Day on January 6

Setting up your Nativity, either alone or with family, will help instill the love of Jesus in many hearts during Christmas celebrations, and will reinforce the true meaning of the season. What a wonderful tradition to have!

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