“More than a mere decoration, a creche or nativity scene engages the whole family and makes your Christmas traditions richer.”
Using your Nativity Creche
Many Christian households set up a nativity display using figures of Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, and other figures. The creche is a Christmas symbol that can take families through the entire Nativity story, from Advent waiting through Epiphany sharing. Furthermore, the creche is a visual way to tell the biblical story of Christ’s birth. But often households only use the nativity creche as a display object. Here are some ideas to use, and yes PLAY, with your creche.
1. Make your creche interactive
Enlist helpers in setting up your creche. Ask “I wonder” questions as you do, “I wonder where we should put the shepherds as they watch their flocks?” “I wonder if this year the ox will be right beside the manger, or with the sheep?”
Invite family members to make a backdrop, or add items to the scene. In Italy, nativity presepe are full of symbols of abundance: tiny baskets of food, people selling wares, flowers… Be reverent, but use your imagination and have fun.
2. Build your creche in stages
Set up your empty manger with a few animals, but place Mary and Joseph further away, clearly on their journey to Bethlehem. The shepherds can be nearby with sheep, waiting for the multitude of angels. The Magi should be the furthest away, following their star.
During the four-week journey through Advent, move each set closer to the manger. Mary and Joseph can arrive on Christmas Eve, the baby Jesus appearing on Christmas Eve or morning. In this manner, you can continue to celebrate the story of Jesus’ birth – from his adoration by lowly shepherds, to the visit of the magi on Epiphany!
3. Celebrate your creche with a blessing
When the creche is set up, pause for a moment to thank God for the gift. Write your own, or use the one David B. Batchelder offers:
Faithful God, who blesses us in our waiting,
bless, too, this creche, which awaits your Son.
As the holy family journeys to this manger,
prepare our hearts to welcome his presence.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
You might also sing a verse of a favorite Christmas carol. Away in the Manger and O Come all Ye Faithful are good choices and can be sung without music.
4. Set up more than one creche
Christians around the world build creches that reflect their unique situations. Collecting nativity scenes is a wonderful way to connect with the entire household of God! If your creche is fragile, consider using a second nativity set that children can safely play with. You can make your own, using free prinatables and directions from Catholic Icing. Or purchase a made-for-children nativity from Fisher Price or PlayMobile.
5. Use your creche as part of charitable giving
The Christmas season is full of gifts! The Gospels remind us that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were a family in need and became refugees. What better time of year to give to others than Christmas? And what better place to collect those gifts than the creche, where we see the Holy Family’s need and witness their flight into Egypt?
Sybil Macbeth suggests making your creche the gathering place for canned goods for your local food pantry; or hats and mittens for the shelter. Before you put your creche away for the season, collect your gifts and deliver them. Gifts don’t have to be material. Jeanne Heiberg proposes a wonderful idea: allow young children to place a straw (or piece of yarn or puff of cotton) in the manger whenever they do a kind deed. Their helpful actions will make a softer place for the baby Jesus, a sign of welcome.
Batchelder, David B., All Through the Day, All Through the Year. Augsburg Fortress, 2000
Heiberg, Jeanne, Advent Arts and Christmas Crafts. Paulist Press, 1995
Macbeth, Sybil, Season of the Nativity. Paraclete Press, 2014
Charlotte Hand Greeson shares her passion for formation as a manager, editor, and writer for Building Faith. The Greeson family sets up their creche the first Sunday in Advent, and move each of the groups around the living room during the next several weeks. Baby Jesus can almost always be found in the junk drawer until Christmas Eve.
*bottom photo courtesy of Sue Cromer
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