Learning how to set up a nativity scene is an important recognition and reminder of the significance of the Christmas season. You may be planning to set up a miniature nativity scene on your table or hearth, or your plans may instead be to display a life-size nativity scene on your front lawn or local church for others to enjoy with you, or even to host a live nativity scene on Christmas Eve. Whatever your plans lead you to do this Christmas season, learn how to set up your nativity scene properly and be prepared for the joyous celebration you have planned for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.
How to Place the Nativity Pieces
The nativity scene itself is comprised of several different figures, or characters. These figures include the three wise men, the baby Jesus, his mother the Virgin Mary, his father Joseph, the attending shepherds, angels, and barn animals. Depending on how large or ornate your nativity scene is, you may have just the three central figures of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, or you may have some or all of the attending figures as well. The composition of the figures inside of the nativity scene will also be dependent on your preference and background. Your structures will include the manger and stable, a north star to hang over the manger doorway, and possibly some props like hay bales. It is traditional to visualize ever-wider circles, and place the figures in order of significance in the innermost circle, followed by secondary characters in the second, third, and fourth circles, respectively.
The most traditional arrangement of the nativity scene pieces will place the baby Jesus in the manger only on Christmas morning, leaving the manger empty until that day arrives. Mary will stand closest to the manger, with Joseph just a bit further away, then the shepherds next standing just inside or just outside the stable itself, and then place the three wise men or Magi just beyond the shepherds. If you have the animals and angels, you can scatter them around beyond the shepherds and the three wise men depending on what space you have within your nativity scene. You can select the animals you want to use but the most traditional nativity scenes will feature camels, oxen, and sheep. If you have a selection of animals, then the camels should be placed near the three wise men and the oxen and sheep nearer the shepherds.
Non-Traditional Nativity Scenes
There are many modern interpretations of traditional nativity scenes from all different countries and cultures around the world. Instead of a stable, you may have a simple dish upon which the figures are placed. Instead of a manger, you may see the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus in her arms. Colors can range from pure white to multi-colored or traditional earth tones. It is also a tradition in some faith communities to host a live nativity scene with real people and animals playing all of the traditional roles of Mary, Jesus, Joseph, the Magi and the shepherds, the angels and the barn animals.