It’s just a Nativity set, isn’t it?

Crude black grease pencil numbers mark the underside of the painted clay manger bearing the Baby Jesus.  They say 79 cents. That was its price back in the mid-1970s when it was purchased in the now non-existent Woodward’s Department Story along with the other figures joining the Babe in our family’s first crèche.

Nativity G1

Budget constraints governed the choice then, but long after we could have afforded to replace them with better quality, we didn’t. We grew accustomed to them – each year carefully unwrapping the familiar figures and setting them into the shelter made by my hubby from a handful of leftover cedar shakes.

I didn’t particularly care for the look of them but after so many years there was a certain loyalty at stake. I admired other nativity sets – one particular ‘other’ – but couldn’t justify buying a second set when the original had nothing wrong with it.

Forty-some years later my wonderful hubby decided the time had come to indulge my dream, and last year for Christmas he bought me the Willow Tree Nativity set.

 Nativity G2

Just as in home decorating, clothing styles or vehicle choices, people’s tastes will differ here. We are attracted to things for many reasons. I love the simplicity of the figures in this set… the hand sculpted look and the emotions they evoke, as I visualize that Bethlehem scene over two thousand years ago.

In art there are many different interpretations of the manger scene. There are some… um, unique ones, too, as discovered by youth pastor Mark Oestreicher who has now expanded his collection from last year’s twenty-seven to this year’s impressive forty-two of what he calls “the worst nativity sets”.

Our old set doesn’t qualify for his collection. It’s old fashioned, but typical. We still have it, although we didn’t unpack it this year. I’m not sure what we’ll do with it since it has earned its place as one of our many Christmas treasures and I can’t quite give it up.

Christmas is all about the arrival of Jesus the Christ into our messy world. However simple or elaborate, nativity sets are not meant to take their place in our homes as just another Christmas decoration. While we shouldn’t need miniature figures to remind us of the Love-made-incarnate that came to us that night long ago, they do give us something to focus on when we tend to slide past his birthday celebration into mere social activities.

Come to think of it, it couldn’t hurt to have a set in every room of our house. Maybe I should go unpack the other one.

Is a nativity set part of your family’s Christmas traditions?


I’m taking a blogging break for the next couple weeks. I’ll still be around and will turn up online periodically, but in addition to my writing I want to take extra time to focus on family activities and the significance of the Christmas season.  In the meantime, consider this quote from Max Lucado:

 “Off to one side sits a group of shepherds. They sit silently on the floor, perhaps perplexed, perhaps in awe, no doubt in amazement. Their night watch had been interrupted by an explosion of light from heaven and a symphony of angels. God goes to those who have time to hear him — and so on this cloudless night he went to simple shepherds.” *

May he come to you this Christmas.

(* Max Lucado in “The Arrival” from Christmas Stories for the Heart)


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11 thoughts on “It’s just a Nativity set, isn’t it?

  1. Judith Robl says:

    The nativity is out, whether we have a tree or not. It is placed first. We have one that was salvaged from a church auction. It was badly damaged, but my daughter and a friend restored the central figures.

  2. christicorbett says:

    My parents have the SAME EXACT Nativity set! I grew up petting that same donkey, moving around the sheep so they could stare at the baby Jesus, and admiring Mary’s serene look of love for her child.

    Funny how small the world is huh?

    Christi Corbett

  3. Taffy says:

    We have a few nativities up. The Willow Tree one by the tree. The smaller ones my kids like to have in their rooms. I like the focus to be on the Savior this time of year. The rest of the year, we all have a picture or small statue of Christ in our rooms.

  4. joylene says:

    I inherited my mother’s set. The baby Jesus is an ornament she received when my older sister was born. She had the exact same Mary. My neighbour, OTOH, has a dozen or so Nativity Scenes throughout her home. Every conceivable substance you can think of, from china to bone to glass to wood to soap to marble to plastic to cloth …. I took my camera over this year and took a picture of each set in case I’m in NB next Christmas. I think every one of them is beautiful. They must be because I look upon them and my heart stirs.

    Merry Christmas, dear Carol.

  5. Carol says:

    I like hearing about your nativity sets and what’s special about them for you. Thanks to each of you for sharing today.

  6. Heather says:

    Ours came from 10,000 Villages and the figures were made at a craft session with my Bible study ladies. It’s not fancy, but it’s the first thing my girls take out and set up each year.

  7. Jenn Hubbard says:

    First of all, the set in that first photograph? My grandparents had the same one! I think it was also bought in the 1970s.
    The set I have now is a miniature set. It came as plain figurines, and I painted them with acrylic paints when I was a teen. They still look good.

  8. Love both your sets, Carol! We had one similar to your original back in the ’50’s. Unfortunately, they disappeared over the years. We now have a set purchased at Costco back in the ’90’s.

  9. Carol says:

    With all the different ones that are possible, it’s interesting to hear of the similar ones some of you have. Heather, homemade ones are memory-making and special in their own way. Susan, our church has a set that came from Costco several years ago. I wonder if they’re the same. It’s currently showing on one of our website’s pages:

  10. Okay…I am getting to this waaaaaay late but I have to tell you something. We have the EXACT same set of nativity figurines.
    They were my parents for 40+ years and I got them out of storage this season. I had to rewire 40 year old lights and put it up but loved remembering it from my childhood. Now my kiddo loves it so I guess it will be around for another 30-40 years.

    It isn’t about budget…its about memories.


    • Carol says:

      That’s really cool, Joseph! Christi Corbett mentions above that her parents had the same set, too. Maybe there weren’t a lot of different ones back then. When we bought it, the individual pieces were priced separately, and we economized by not buying the wisemen or shepherds. In later years I wished we had them but I could never find the same pieces again.

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