The 10 Best Nativity Sets
This wiki has been updated 35 times since it was first published in July of 2015. Looking to add to your Christmas decorations this year? Consider one of these nativity sets, all featuring the classic story, some with whimsical scenes and others with exquisite, highly detailed figurines and accessories. The origin of this traditional display is credited to Saint Francis of Assisi and dates back to 1223, continuing a long history of celebrating the birth of Jesus. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
October 12, 2020:
This latest update saw a few tweaks to the lineup, including the removal of the Hawthorne Village Following the Star. This one is still a nice choice if you're willing to shell out the money, but despite the fact that it plays music and the figurines move, it's quite expensive for what you get. It's also on the small size, about the height of a television remote control, which makes it hard to appreciate some of the finer details.
We took the Kurt Adler C7104 off the list to make way for the contemporary Enesco Pillars of Heaven. These weighted pillars offer a charming twist on the usual nativity scene and feature excerpts of scripture on each piece, which allows for myriad ways to organize them in accordance with different parts of the story throughout the holidays.
Also joining the list today is the Basic Spirit Creche Mini, an affordable, extremely hardwearing option that's the ideal size for a small alcove or niche. It will stand the test of time, is completely free of lead, and comes with an elegant emerald velveteen pouch to keep everything together when in storage.
We kept the Fisher-Price Little People around, although it's doubtful many families will want it for display purposes. It's still a great teaching tool for kids aged 1-5 and can help them refine their motor skills while they learn about Jesus Christ. The Brubaker Pyramid is a German creation ideal for adding a distinctive touch to traditional Christmas setups and rotates thanks to candle heat, so no batteries are needed. Finally, the Creative Brands Avalon Advent Candleholder is a convenient choice for anyone who doesn't want to keep track of multiple pieces. It's easy to display on a shelf or small table, and looks especially good when paired with an illustrated bible that's open to the Gospels of Matthew or Luke.
April 25, 2019:
When it comes to choosing a nativity scene to complement your holiday decor, nothing is more important than style, which is why this list is so diverse. Here, you'll find elaborate scenes that comprise many individual pieces, giving the decorator creative freedom to place each figurine wherever they see fit. There are also simpler sets that contain just a few pieces, or, in some cases, one piece, which should appeal to individuals who don't have much spare time to spend on decorating for the holidays.
With regard to updates, the Collections Etc. Flameless Candles was removed from the list due to availability issues. The Teak Isle Outdoor was also taken off the list because of complaints about its figures falling over in mildly windy conditions. In its place, the similar silhouette-style New Creative Laser Cut was added. Another new addition is the Creative Brands Avalon Advent Candleholder, which was included to give shoppers an additional easy-to-set-up one-piece option.
Aguilar Artisan Workshop Bells Thoughtfully made in Mexico, this distinctive set features twelve ceramic figurines shaped by hand with bell-shaped bottoms that produce sound and have been hand-painted in a white floral motif. The tops of the models represent a character in the scene and are rendered in colorful detail. It includes Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the three wise men, an angel, a shepherd holding a lamb, a woman bringing food, a burro, a cow, and a sheep. novica.com
Christmas Night Inc. Giant Nativity Set If you're looking to put on a community display for your organization or church, this 6-foot scale set might be the way to go. It includes 22 intricately detailed handmade sculptures of the holy family, kings, shepherds, and animals. The pieces are made via a patented 8-step manufacturing process using high-quality fiberglass resin that makes them lightweight yet durable. Models are painted and sealed to last for years outside without losing luster or suffering degradation. christmasnightinc.com
Handmade Sets on Etsy For those seeking pieces that are one of a kind, there's likely to be something to pique your interest on Etsy. Creative artisans and vendors offer everything from wooden sculptures and carved figurines to scenes made using felt, dried banana leaves, and even manipulated nails. There are also ornaments, dolls, and prints for sale. etsy.com
How To Properly Arrange And Care For Your Nativity Set
You can replace a set of Christmas balls a lot easier than you can replace a wise man's leg.
The first key to arranging a nativity set is determining which gospel that set has been based on. The majority of nativities have been designed to provide a general-and-yet-faithful recreation of Christ's origin story as related via the Gospels of either Matthew or Luke, both of which include specific differences. The Gospel of Luke, for example, includes the only scriptural reference to shepherds watching their flocks by night, whereas the Gospel of Matthew includes the only scriptural reference to a trio of wise men arriving by camel.
While you can use the scriptures as a guide, the protocol for any nativity set is that the baby Jesus should be positioned in the center, with Mary and Joseph flanking him. The space in front of Jesus should be left open, with shepherds, wise men, and any other figurines fanning out in order of importance. Animals should be positioned along the fringes, since they are shorter. Angels should be positioned overhead, as if they are in the sky.
When the holiday season is over, every piece of a nativity set should be wiped down to minimize any chance of dirt build-up. Bundle your figurines inside of double-ply paper or bubble wrap (avoid using newspaper, as the ink might leave a film). If your set is valuable, you may want to place all of the pieces inside a sealed container. Make it a point not to stack any ornaments on top of your nativity set, especially if the figurines have been hand-crafted. You can replace a set of Christmas balls a lot easier than you can replace a wise man's leg.
How To Transform a Nativity Set Into an Annual Tradition
At its core, any nativity set is a reminder of the true meaning of Christmas. Certain people celebrate that by placing a nativity set front and center beneath their holiday tree. Other people celebrate the spirit of Christmas by donating a nativity set to a local non-profit, a nearby school, or perhaps even a family in need.
Some people place a Bible in front of their nativity scenes, with the scripture open to the specific passage which their set has been based on.
A lot of Catholic school teachers celebrate the holiday season by having their students create their own shoebox nativity sets. Students use a shoebox as a backdrop along with clothespins to make stick people, felt to make robes, shrouds, and beards, toothpicks to make staffs, and Popsicle sticks to make a manger and stables. Markers are used for drawing faces and a background along the inside of the box.
Assuming you have enough space, you may be able to enhance your nativity set by purchasing a new piece for it year after year. This way your nativity can evolve much like a Dickens Village, expanding to include a little drummer boy, a choir of angels, a collection of animals, and a nearby inn.
Some people place a Bible in front of their nativity scenes, with the scripture open to the specific passage which their set has been based on. Others drill a hole into the roof of the stable so they can place a bright bulb in through the firmament. This bulb, which is usually pulled down from a strand of tree lights above, is meant to represent the North Star.
A Brief History of The Nativity Set
St. Francis of Assisi erected the first nativity scene in 1223. Francis based his conception on the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke, these being the only two gospels that relate an elaborate birth story for Christ. St. Francis constructed his nativity inside a cave in Central Italy, and he used actual people along with living animals to create a more compelling feel.
St. Francis of Assisi erected the first nativity scene in 1223.
Pope Honorius III endorsed this idea, a development that led to several similarly-staged scenes being erected throughout Europe. By the 14th century, nativities had become an annual tradition throughout the Church. Most of the live performers were being replaced by hand-made figurines; most of the outdoor settings were being replaced by wooden props.
By the end of the 1800s, nativity scenes had spread to every corner of Christendom, and they were available in a range of styles and sizes meant to accommodate the home, the church, or the office. The majority of figurines were being made out of terracotta, wax, or ivory. Elaborate sets were being sold as collectors' items - a profit-based practice that flew in the face of St. Francis' original intent.
Today, nativity sets continue to be a hallmark of the holiday season. In Christian households and churches, these wholesome sets have become almost as recognizable as the Christmas tree itself. There is one primary difference, however, in that nativity sets continue to sell at a reasonable pace, whereas "real" Christmas tree sales have begun to drop off - a byproduct of American consumers investing in artificial trees as a way of saving on costs and clean-up, while remaining environmentally responsible, as well.