Nativity scenes are a part of peoples’ Christmas celebrations that help keep the inspirational aspect of the holiday the center of attention. Taking the time to set up a nativity scene is a fun way to get into the spirit of the season. But not everyone knows how to set up a nativity scene correctly.
While there isn’t a large amount of planning required for setting up a nativity scene, you will want to consider where you put the scene to ensure that everyone enjoys it. A nativity scenes for outdoors tends to be much larger and will require some lighting for visibility at night. Indoor nativity scenes are best set up on a mantle or table either near the Christmas tree or in a main room like the family room.
Whether you’re setting a scene with adults or children could make a difference in how you go about setting things up, even though you will customarily use the same types of figures. When children are involved, they learn more from the experience by setting up some of the figures gradually so that they learn about the holiday’s meaning. Some adults follow this practice as well.
Nativity Sets with Stable or Creche
The stable needs placement in an area where it will draw attention. Although some people set up the scene under a tree, this can lead to the nativity being crowded out. Unless the set is large enough to be nearly lifelike, as many outdoor nativity scenes are, the best place for the scene is on a table by itself. The stable should be positioned in a way that makes it easy for everyone to see whichever figures are placed inside easily.
The best place for the manger is in the center of the stable, putting the main focus of attention on the Baby Jesus. Customs differ as to whether the Jesus figure is placed in the manger right away, but he can be placed at any time. In settings with children, it is not uncommon for the Baby Jesus to be put in the manger on Christmas Eve. In that case you may want to consider nativity sets with a removable Jesus.
The Holy Family Figures
A figure of Mary should be placed next to the manger. Her placement shows her importance in the Christmas story. Ideally, she should be placed where she appears to look reverently at her son. Joseph should also be placed near the manger. If he is designed to look down at the manger scene, he can be placed at the opposite side of the manger from Mary. Otherwise, he should be placed in another close location without being as close to the manger as Mary.
Although these three figures are the main focus of any nativity scene, most scenes include at least some barnyard animals. Putting them inside the stable works, but many people also place them outside. The most important thing to remember is to place them where they don’t block the figures inside the stable.
The angel Gabriel is an important piece that may be placed inside the stable, or in front of it in a way that does not obstruct the view of the Holy Family. His role is as a messenger, and as such, is one of the figures that viewers will enjoy seeing the most. In scenes that also include shepherds, the angel can be placed in a way that makes it look as though he is announcing to the shepherds.
Large Nativity Sets
Larger sets often include both shepherds and wise men. Because these groups appear at different times in the Christmas story, it is most practical to put them in two separate groupings. Shepherds, with their sheep, often appear close to the stable because of their approach from the fields near the stable. The wise men, which might have one or more camels, ought to be placed coming from the east. A practice that many use is placing the wise men gradually closer to the stable as the season progresses.
Some people have additional figures that they place at the nativity scene, possibly signifying the importance of Jesus’ birth to all people. Nativity scenes used by children might include several additional figures that they find meaningful. When extra figures beyond the traditional ones are used, it is important to remember that these, too, require placement where they don’t obscure the view of the Holy Family.
Indoor and Outdoor Nativity Decorations
Besides setting up the figures in a meaningful way, it is also helpful for the setting that the nativity scene is in to look good. For indoor nativity sets, a nice table runner under the stable helps draw the focus to the stable and the figures around it. Some may also prefer to add some glittery snow drapes or evergreen decorations to the table.
Outdoor nativity scenes will require safe placement and perhaps some stabilization against the elements. If you live in a windy area you may need to consider weighting or tying your scene down. The best nativity scene set ups include a spotlight of some kind, usually shining from the front of the set so that passerbys can see clearly from the road or sidewalk.
Wherever and however you decide how to set up your nativity set, it is a nice tradition to do each Christmas. Plan your decorating early and get your children involved also. This is also a great time to explain the meaning behind the nativity and help your children understand who are the people in the nativity scene.