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Christmas Nativity Scenes

Updated on March 20, 2011
Flickr Image by KCIvey
Flickr Image by KCIvey
Flickr Image by riverrunner22
Flickr Image by riverrunner22

The Nativity Scene

The Nativity Scene is probably the most common icon of the holiday season, of course besides Santa Claus, the Christmas tree, and various other images. The Nativity Scene is the more popular Christian image that you'll find and the more popular decoration that you'll find in homes.

I mean, my grandmother is a pretty big collector of various Nativity Scenes, with versions in various materials (wood, silver, porcelain, etc) and various pieces. Upon the holiday season, she'll put out at least one, of not two or three in each room, just about.

Well, this is actually a pretty common practice. Although, to me it's a little much. But, I had to stop putting my Nativity Scene out because no matter where I put it- on a table, nightstand, desk, floor, speaker, etc- somehow my Yorkie would always steal the Baby Jesus in his crib. Well, that or one of the sheep.

But anyway, the Nativity Scene can be captured in so many different forms and views, but typically, it will show Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus, in a barn. Sometimes you'll have various farm animals, such as cows, sheep, and camels, and sometimes you'll see the three wise men. It will all vary depending on what version you purchased.

During the Christmas holiday season, you'll find the Nativity scene in many Catholic and Protestant homes, churches, and parks

Different Traditions

Surprisingly enough there are different traditions with the Nativity scene. And, according to Wikipedia, here are a few different traditions.

In Provence, France nativity scenes are sometimes composed of hundreds of clay figures, that represent all the traditional trades of old Provence.

In Mexico and various places in Central America, it is tradition to build the Nativity scen on December 16th, which is the first day of Posada. Traditionally, the scene is completed overtime, with baby Jesus being added on December 24th. The shepherds are added on the 25th, and the three wise men on January 6th, which is Three King's Day. They leave the nativity scene up until February 2nd, which marks the end of the Epiphany season; although, some parts of Latin American take down the nativity scene on January 15th, or right around there.

In parts of Spain, indoor nativity scenes are built, and can sometimes be found as large as 280 meters with over 12,000 kg of sand, 3,000 kg of stone, 1,500 kg of cork, and more than 800 figures. Typically, they will add various light effects, water, rain music, and even automations.

In Catalonia and the Basque Country, you will find a figure of a defecating man in the background of the nativity scene, which is apparently a reflection of Catalan irreverence and scatological humor.  

In the town hall of The Hague, you will always be able to find a life-size nativity sceen with living, breathign animals and people.

Flickr Image by KCIvey
Flickr Image by KCIvey

Arranging a Nativity Scene

When setting out a nativity scene, you want to pay attention to the placement of the figures and how you arrange the overall scene because believe it or not but where the characters are placed is a big deal to many, since each character has special meaning.

For a standard nativity scene with 7 pieces, you'll want to use the following arrangement. Just remember that you can always add figures but all secondary characters must be outsiders looking in.

Main Figures 

  • Have the manger in the center of the stable. If baby Jesus is not attached to the manager, many traditions wait to add the baby Jesus on Christmas morning.  
  • Virgin Mary should be the closest figure to the manger.  
  • Many nativity scenes place Joseph on one side of the manger with Mary on the other, but you can also have Joseph set off to the side, at a distance, looking away from the baby Jesus with an old man, who represents Satan at his side. (The purpose of adding the old man is to show human doubt in the scene. 

Secondary Figures

  • You want to position secondary characters, such as any shepherds and the three wise men in a circles away from the manger lookin towards baby Jesus.
  • Typically, the three wise men or any shepherd are placed in the first circle. If you have both, then you'll want the shepherds closer to the manger than the three wise men, as that will be more accurate to the Biblical event.
  • Nativity angels are placed above the stable, but if this is not possible, you can place them inside the stable behind the holy family.
  • Animals, such as sheep, cows, camels, etc., are placed in the nativity scene to reflect the humbleness of Christ's birth. Typically, you'll place sheeps with shepherds and camels with the wise men. 

You'll want to space out the figures as best as you can, but given that some nativity scenes are rather small, especially with the indoor decorative ones, you'll have to work with your space. 

Living Nativity Scene


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    • MarieAlice profile image

      Maria Alicia Cardenas 

      8 years ago from Spain

      Nice hub,,,there is no way Icould miss decortaing my home with a nativity set...I live in Spain where displaying NAtivity set is a must, such as in my country, Peru....

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 

      10 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      I bring my Moms Nativity set out every year

      great hub regards Zsuzsy

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 

      10 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      We just placed ours a week ago. :) I love the nativity scene in our living room. It reminds me that Jesus is the reason for this season. :)

    • Princessa profile image

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      10 years ago from France

      I love nativity scenes in Spain, like you say, they can be meters and meters long with waterfalls, light effects to simulate the passage from day to night, moving figures... they are fantsatic. I loved taking the children around the different nativity scenes displayed in town, each one was trying to be better than next door's!

      Great hub, just put me in an Xmas mood :)

    • jbcat profile image


      10 years ago from Santa Fe

      Being Chatholic my mom always brings out the Nativity Scene and Sometimes I play with the figurines but never disrespect them. Cannot wait til Christmas.


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