7 Tips on How to Set Up Your Own Live Nativity

Image Source: Andelin Family Farm

The first nativity scene was actually a live recreation of the Biblical account of the nativity in 1223 AD. Saint Francis of Assisi organized the live nativity in a cave near Greccio in central Italy and featured a display of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and some stable animals. After the Pope heard about the live nativity, he gave it an official papal blessing. Soon after, live recreations of the nativity were being held at almost every church in Italy and Western Europe. Even though most Nativities today are statues, Saint Francis’ live nativity tradition lives on throughout the world. If you are interested in setting up a live nativity for your community, we put together a few steps to help get you started.

1. Plan Early Start planning 2 to 4 months prior to Christmas, especially if this is your first time organizing an event like this. The earlier you start, the better. There is a lot to coordinate.

2. Find a Barn You can create a stable scene without a barn, but it will be more impactful if it is in a barn where you can better control the ambiance irregardless of the weather. Plus, your actors and the visitors will thank you for being able to view the live nativity in a safe, warm environment. If you don’t have a barn yourself, you will need to ask around to find access to a barn. Call or visit local farms that have enough land and a suitable barn to host your event. You will want to confirm ahead of time that the owners are OK with the expected amount of foot traffic and car traffic on their property.

3. Solidify Dates & Times Make sure you pick a date that doesn’t conflict with other major events in your community. Typically, it is best to pick one of the first two Saturdays of December for a holiday event. The time should be early enough in the evening for families with young children to attend. Ideally, around 6 or 7 pm.

4. Actors The trick is finding parents with a newborn that are willing to play the part of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. Try reaching out to leaders of various congregations for suggestions of a young family that may be willing to participate. Depending on how long your event will last, you may want to get two sets of leading actors. Newborns typically don’t have the capacity to sit for too long unless their good sleepers so just in case, you may want to have two shifts of actors to play the leading roles.

5. Costumes You don’t have to spend a lot to have great costumes. If you or someone you know has some sewing skills you may be able to find a good deal on fabric at a discount fabric store.

6. Animals Having the right animals make the nativity scene feel more real. There are several things to consider when picking the right animals and finding someone who will lend you their animals for the event. You want to find animals that have been well taken care of. It is important to make sure the animals are up to date on all their vaccinations and are well accustomed to humans. Possible animals to include in your nativity scene include: cows, sheep, camels, donkeys, chicken, and geese.

7. Other Logistics Make sure that you have a good crowd flow established so that everyone can have a good view of the nativity and that lines move quickly. Keep the pathways free from ice and any potential injuries. It may be a good idea to have some hot chocolate or coffee available for people to warm up afterwards. Plan for ample parking space and make sure that people can get in and out of the parking without much congestion. This will greatly improve your visitors’ overall experience and leave them wanting to come back again next year.