Has your Nativity set seen better days? Are Mary and Joseph more East End than Middle East? Do you need binoculars to see them from the front pew? Finding the perfect Nativity Set for your church, chapel or event can be challenging. Whether you want a traditional, abstract, or contemporary representation of the first Christmas, the task can be daunting.
When a member of The Sheldon Hub asked about finding a more ethnically accurate Nativity set, the rest of the community offered a variety of solutions. And many others said they had been, or still were, in a similar dilemma. So, if you want to update, improve, or refresh your Nativity, read on to see what Hub members came up with.
Make your own
One way to get what you want is to make your own Nativity. You can use large drink bottles for the body, and old socks for the face. Knitting, needle felting and other cloth embellishments enable a diverse set of characters. Many craft shops sell polystyrene balls that can be used as the base for heads. If you don’t need large figures, buy some blank pegs and make peg dolls.
Top tip: If you dip the cloth in wallpaper paste and mould it into shape, it will dry hard.
Repurposing and recycling
To refresh an old set you can repaint them, although remember ethnicity is more than skin colour! One Hub member pointed out they had used a "Bronzed" set made of plaster which avoided racial stereotypes.
Many of the crafting ideas above used old plastic bottles and discarded items of clothing. It is always worth considering what resources you already have and recycling them.
A contemporary view
Many traditional Nativity scenes still depict a calm, western couple with a smiling blonde baby. The shepherds are good hard-working locals and usually, the Three Kings are depicted to provide some ethnic diversity.
If the events of the Nativity were today, what would be different? The setting would be Bethlehem, under Palestinian rule. A picture of Bethlehem now? Although not a single mom, the child’s parents were not exactly following a traditional path. Who are the hard-working locals? And the Kings... Magi? Astrologers? Reporters?
How could we ask people to step into the scene? If you are a hospital chaplain and want a Nativity scene at your hospital chapel, would a contemporary scene work? Who would be the stressed-out innkeeper? The local hard workers?
A photo montage could be a contemporary alternative.
Making your own Nativity set can seem like too much work, especially if you are not a creative type. However, there are plenty of ways to get others involved.
Do you have a Guide Group, or any other similar groups connected to your church? Ask them to create some characters. And there are often plenty of Knitters in our churches. Do you run Messy Church, or have an art group, or even a group that you would not normally think creative... ask them. Any of these could become annual events.
A local school might be interested in helping you out. You may be allowed to share the Nativity story at the school before they create the scene. They could then create the set out of waste materials as part of a wider project.
Support charities and small business
There are many charities and small businesses that make and sell Nativity sets. These are often more contemporary and support those who make them. There are many wooden sets available, although a lot may be too small if you want to use them in a large setting.
Do a quick online search and you will find sets available from Jerusalem and contemporary sets from places like Etsy.
This summary is just part of a much longer discussion on The Sheldon Hub. For anyone in ministry, the Hub offers a private and secure space to discuss the day to day craft and graft of Christian ministry, from the trivial to the turbulent, to offer support and share resources.