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Nativity play actors

Updated on August 3, 2013

What characters do I need in my Nativity Play?

Every Nativity play needs a different collection of characters.

Of course, there are some constants like Mary and Joseph are almost always required! but there is a remarkable difference depending on whether you're following a Biblical approach, a traditional approach or a modern more mainstream version.

There's also a great deal of difference if you're have adults or children doing the acting. Indeed, the characters will also change depending on whether the audience is Christian, non-Christian or mixed and also adult, children or both!

The Biblical nativity

From a Biblical point of view, its possible to chose between the two stories of the early life of Jesus.

There's one story in Mathew which is written from Joseph's point of view and there's another story in Luke from Mary's point of view. The two coincide, but document different events in the same overall story.

Matthew's Gospel

This story is written from the point of view of Joseph.

The main actors you would need for Matthew's Nativity would be:

1. Joseph

2. Angel (in a dream)

3. Several Astrologer's (wise men)

4. King Herod

5. Several of Herod's wise men

6. A second angel (in a dream)

7. Several of Herod's soldiers (who got there too late to kill Jesus)

Luke's Gospel

This story is written from the point of view of Mary.

The main actors you would need for Matthew's Nativity would be:

1. Mary

2. Angel Gabriel

3. Mary's cousin Elizabeth (Elizabeth was the mother of John the Baptist)

4. Elizabeth's husband Zacharias

5. A priest in Jerusalem

6. Joseph

7. Several Shepherds

8. Several Angels

Other minor character's would be:

1.Simeon, who was present at the presentation of Jesus in the temple (recognized Jesus as the Messiah)

2. Anna, a prophetess in Jerusalem (recognized Jesus as the Messiah)

Getting it together

The situation with Joseph and Mary

Joseph was told by the Angel what Jesus' job was (He was to save his people from their sins) and Joseph was told the baby would be called Jesus.

Mary wasn't told either of these things.

Mary was told who Jesus was to be (Son of the Most High God, Emmanuel, God with us)

Joseph wasn't told this.

They need to get their act together and talk to one another in order to know the necessary facts about Jesus.

Secular plays

Of course, when you're doing a Nativity play you are usually following a script rather than using the Bible as a basis.Most scripts amalgamate the two stories, mix in a little Tradition and a spot of Fun. There's are free script Link further down the play if you are looking for one.

Here's a fairly standard list:



Several Angels

Several Shepherds

3 Wise men

An Innkeeper

Several Sheep

Baby Jesus

A Donkey

3 camels

Various other stable animals (cows, horses etc.)

Characters in the free Nativity script

The free Nativity script loosely follows both Bible stories mixed together and therefore has a mixed collection of characters.

Angel 1

Angel 2



Cousin Elizabeth


Shepherd 1

Shepherd 2

3 Wise men

Herod's soldiers

The following can be either actors or props


Baby Jesus



3 camels

Making costumes for your nativity play

If are into sewing, it is a very easy matter to design and sew a selection of costumes for a nativity. If you're not as familiar with sewing, a pattern is a very useful tool.

Both Simplicity and McCall make a selection of patterns for Nativity costumes, in a variety of sizes both for children and adults. You can get both new and second-hand copies of these patterns at a very reasonable price, particularly if you are making a full set of costumes or re-using the pattern for several children.

It's a good idea to collect plenty of different fabrics. Almost any fabric will do for one costume or another as originally the colours would have been very basic, but for a memorable play, the brighter colours are better. Old curtains are a very useful resource as they often have a courser, hardier look and finish, and of course it's a great way of recycling them.

The only costume which requires a specific colour is for Mary, traditionally Mary wears blue and it is a good idea to keep up the associations with Mary and the colour blue as it immediately identifies her to the audience and therefore as she is the centre of the play, all the other characters can be worked out easily from their identification with her.

Simplicity 4797 Boys' and Girls' Nativity Costumes Sewing Pattern - Size A (S-M-L)
Simplicity 4797 Boys' and Girls' Nativity Costumes Sewing Pattern - Size A (S-M-L)

This pattern form simplicity has a really good collection of Nativity costumes.

This is the kids sizes pattern, with small, medium and large sizes within that. So if you're making costumes for a school, playgroup or church etc, you'll find its got all the sizes you need.

If you're making costumes for your own kids, you'll have the size you need.

Superb value for money!


Boy and Girls Nativity costume patterns

There are a number of other patterns available both from Simplicity and McCall, two well known names in the world of patterns.

Getting the costumes right

Most nativity plays need a basic cast of actors. Mary and Joseph always take centre stage, but frequently don't have the most lines, but they do do most of the acting.

The three Wise-men or Kings, need careful outfitting as ideally you want it to be obvious that they are together and 'Well off' so a lot of gold, purple or crowns creates a good connection between them.

The shepherds are much easier... apart from the sheep that is, a shepherd can actually be wearing almost anything, preferably stripey, with the obligatory head scarf.

Holiday Christmas Nativity Scene Pageant Costumes Dressup Complete Set Mary Joseph Baby Jesus Animals Wisemen Angel Shepherd Assorted Sizes
Holiday Christmas Nativity Scene Pageant Costumes Dressup Complete Set Mary Joseph Baby Jesus Animals Wisemen Angel Shepherd Assorted Sizes

This is an amazing value collection of costumes, which provides almost everything you need to dress you cast for the Nativity play. It includes 10 costumes as well as the sheep and the Baby Jesus props. You can get these costumes separately as well, just click on the Big Arrow above to see the full list.


If you like it, put a tail on it!

This is a brilliant way of getting as many children involved as possible, without to much work getting them ready and at a realistic price.

You can have a whole herd of cows or donkeys if you want to, and it's a good idea to get as many children involved as possible.

Plush Donkey Headband Ears and Tail Costume Set
Plush Donkey Headband Ears and Tail Costume Set

Its a great price, easy to put on and take off, gives a child a good roll and it's easy to store ready for next year.


Ears and tails costumes

Donkeys, cows and horses, build your own herd.

Easy Angels

With the addition of an old bridesmaids or 1st communion dress these wings create an instant angel. This looks absolutely lovely if you can get a small 'choir' of angels with matching wings.

They are particularly good on a stage with stage lights as they have stars along the edges which can reflect in a pool of light they can be really an impressive sight with kind of back lit angels.

Shepherds crook by night

Its amazing what the addition of one or two good props will make. They make the difference between believability and not getting a good audience reaction.

What a perfect way of making your shepherd look like a real shepherd. This neatly solves the sheep problem... in one fell swoop.

Just adding this prop will make the shepherds scenes look so much more realistic.

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