For many people, the nativity set is an essential part of their Christmas decorations year in and year out. Some feel that Christmas doesn’t even officially start until Joseph, Mary, and Baby Jesus are carefully positioned in their stable for everyone to enjoy.
If you’re getting in the holiday spirit, there’s no doubt that you’re pulling out the nativity set or ordering a new one. If you’re a nativity scene novice, you may be asking yourself, “How can I best set up my nativity set?” First, let’s discuss why the nativity scene is set up at Christmas.
Why a Nativity Set?
The nativity scene, which is decorated in homes at Christmas every year, is the special exhibition, particularly during the Christmas season, of figures that represent the scene of the birth of Jesus. A nativity scene takes its inspiration from the accounts of the birth of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Luke’s narrative describes an angel announcing the birth of Jesus to shepherds who then visit the humble site where Jesus is found lying in a manger, a trough for cattle feed. The Wise Men, who followed a star to the crib in which Jesus lay, are often included.
In Christian theology the nativity marks the incarnation of Jesus as the second Adam, in fulfillment of the divine will of God, undoing the damage caused by the fall of the first man. The artistic depiction of the nativity has been a major subject for Christian artists since the 4th century. Since the 13th century, the nativity scene has emphasized the humility of Jesus and promoted a more tender image of him, as a major turning point from the early “Lord and Master” image, affecting the basic approaches of Christian pastoral ministry.
The Gospels of both Matthew and Luke place the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Although Matthew does not explicitly state Joseph’s place of origin or where he lived prior to the birth of Jesus, the account implies that the family lived in Bethlehem, and explains that they later settled in Nazareth. However, Luke 1:26–27 clearly states that Mary lived in Nazareth before the birth of Jesus, at the time of the Annunciation.
The Gospel of Luke states that Mary gave birth to Jesus and placed him in a stable “because there was no place for them in the inn”, but does not say exactly where or when Jesus was born. The Greek word kataluma, seen in Luke 2:7, may be translated as either “inn” or “guest room”, and some scholars have speculated that Joseph and Mary attempted to stay with relatives, rather than at an inn, only to find the house full, whereupon they resorted to the shelter of a room with a manger.
History of the Nativity Scene
St. Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first nativity scene, a living scene with real people and animals in a real cave, in the year 1223 at Greccio, central Italy, in an attempt to place the emphasis of Christmas upon the worship of Christ rather than upon secular materialism and gift giving. It seems to have worked, because millions of homes, schools and churches all across the world love to set up their nativity scenes annually, even after 800 years!
The nativity scenes that we see today come from St. Francis and Italian churches from the 1300s, in which they were year-round display pieces made from terracotta. The 13th century was a gigantic turning point in the development of a new “tender image of Jesus” within Christianity. As The Image of St Francis tells us, the Franciscans began to emphasize the humility and teachings of Christ at his birth and his crucifixion. The construction of the Nativity scene by Saint Francis of Assisi was instrumental in portraying a softer image of Jesus that contrasted with the powerful and radiant image at the Transfiguration, and emphasized how God had taken a humble path to his own birth. The poverty-stricken birth of Christ led many to empathize with the image of Christ as a humble God, especially when the Black Death broke out in Medieval Europe. The thought that an all-powerful Creator would surrender his fear-inducing ways and instead reach people through love was a tremendous thought to his believers.
So as the 13th century turns over, so does the outlook of Jesus and the tender joys of the nativity scene, affecting the culture and theology of millions of believers and non-believers for centuries to come.
In the 16th century, nativity scenes started migrating out of churches and into the homes of the wealthy. Not the living type, or giant terracotta statues, but smaller figurines made from wood and wax, garnished head-to-toe in the finest clothing. Over the following centuries, nativity sets made their way to homes all across the world, developing their own traditions and adding unique flair in every region.
Germans especially embraced bringing nativity scenes into the home, where Catholic and Protestant families were prominent. In Germany, it’s still a well-worn tradition to show all parts of the nativity scene absent the baby Christ, who is only placed on display after Christmas Eve, as he wasn’t yet born.
The popularity of nativity scenes continued to spread throughout most Catholic countries, where sculpted cribs could be seen in countless churches and homes. By the end of the 19th century nativity scenes became popular beyond Catholic settings, and many versions of various sizes and in various materials such as terracotta, paper, wood, wax, and ivory, often with the backdrop being the stable.
Ingredients For An Awesome Nativity Scene
While the nativity sets of yesteryear were made from traditional resources, today, the typical Nativity set is made out of more modern materials, such as porcelain, ceramic, resin, and sometimes china. Many prefer the traditional materials, as sets are still carved out of trusty, durable wood, or even a more expensive olive wood.
A static nativity scene may be erected indoors or outdoors in the course of the Christmas season, and consists of figurines depicting the young Jesus resting in a manger, Mary, and Joseph. Other figures within the scene may incorporate angels, shepherds, and various animals. The figures can also be manufactured from fabric, and organized in a steady or grotto. The Magi may also appear, and are often now not positioned in the scene until the week following Christmas to account for their journey time to Bethlehem. Even as most home nativity scenes are packed away at Christmas or quickly thereafter, nativity scenes in churches most often stay on show until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
The nativity scene may or may not correctly replicate gospel hobbies. Without a basis within the gospels, for example, the shepherds, the Magi, and the ox and donkey could also be displayed together at the manger. Some traditions carry different scriptural characters to the nativity scene reminiscent of Adam and Eve and the serpent, Noah and his animals, the twelve sons of Jacob, the twelve prophets and the twelve apostles. Everyday activities equivalent to Mary washing diapers within the River Jordan or a dove descending on the newborn infant may be depicted.
How to Set Up Your Nativity Scene
Commonly, the nativity scene is installed slightly earlier than Christmas Day as a very festive holiday decoration. Many households begin hanging up their Christmas decorations after the Sunday before Advent, when the deceased are honored near the end of November, so they can revel in the sight of the nativity scene for longer and enjoy the anticipation of Christmas. The nativity scene often plays a central role among your primary Christmas decorations.
You can add your nativity figures to the scene gradually as the figures appeared in the biblical Christmas story, or set them up all at the same time when the crib is set up. While the first method can make the wait for Christmas seem shorter, the second approach has the advantage of the family being able to enjoy the whole nativity scene for the entire month. Both versions are great ways to educate children about the story of Jesus and why we celebrate kindness, charity and family around Christmas.
Here are the main components of a nativity scene:
- Baby Jesus
- Flocks of sheep
- Stable animals
- Wise Men
- Angel (Gabriel)
- Star above stable
The centerpiece of your nativity scene is, of course, the depiction of Jesus in his crib. Mary and Joseph should be standing next to the crib, lovingly watching over him. The stable that covers them is important, as according to the Gospel of Luke and Matthew they were turned away from all the inns and were forced into the stable. It also represents the simple, modest beginnings of the young savior. And, even though they’re not mentioned in the Gospels, oxen, donkey, and other stable animals fill out the space, and symbolize Jesus’ humble and poor beginnings. These are the primary elements of a nativity scene, but you don’t have to stop there!
Another likely figure you’ll see in nativity sets are the shepherds tending their flocks of sheep, as depicted in the story of the Angel Gabriel who appeared before them the night of Christmas to announce the birth of the Baby Jesus. The Wise Men can also be included in the depiction, and a star normally adorns the top of the stable to represent the star of Bethlehem, which guided the way to the crib. Camels, angels, and even our Good Words Nativity Sign Set can be included to really round out your entire scene. And don’t forget to add some lights to make it shine bright throughout the night just like the Star of Bethlehem!
Setting Up Your Outdoor Nativity Scene
If you’ve recently purchased a scene from Outdoor Nativity Store, you may be wondering how to set it up. Click below to watch a handy video that will give you a gorgeous scene in only five minutes! If you don’t have video capabilities, continue reading for instructions.
So, just how easy is it to set up your outdoor nativity scene?
Begin by removing the nativity scene from the packaging. Place the left and right stable components on the ground about 3 ½ feet apart with their stakes facing upward. Rotate the roof element until their ends align at the peak. Next, pass one of the supplied bolts through the star. While supporting the bolt with your hand drop this stable over the bolt and secure loosely with the wing nut. Repeat these steps with the second bolt.
After making sure the two legs are both straight and parallel to each other, pull the support stakes from out of their plastic clips and drive them 4 – 6” into the ground with a hammer or rubber mallet. Lift the stable with two hands and place it over the stakes. Just like that the stable is complete and we can move on to the rest of the scene!
Position the cradle about a foot in front of the stable centered with the star. Drive the support stake into the ground and drop the cradle over it. Do the same with Mary and Joseph. Have a full scene? Simply repeat the procedure for each of the figures. And that’s it – you’ve finished your outdoor nativity scene. Christmas just became a little more complete!
Have A Very Merry Christmas with Your Nativity Set!
When all is said and done, how you arrange the figurines within your nativity scene is completely up to you. Whether you want to set it all up at once, or follow the German tradition of waiting to place Christ in his crib until after Christmas Eve, what’s important is that you’re celebrating the wisdom Jesus imparted to his followers by decorating your home with the tender image of the savior at his birth.
However you wish to set up your nativity scene and however long you enjoy this festive decoration, we hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas!