Recently, the mom of one of the fifth graders in my ministry sent me a video from when the girl was in preschool. She was playing with the family’s nativity set and telling the story of Jesus’ birth. It was so adorable and funny. She was talking all about the angel with his “gold hat” and the shepherds and wise men who came to see Baby Jesus. In her sweet little preschooler voice, she was making up songs to go with the scene, enrapt in her play and discovery. It was the perfect moment of playful faith formation.
Every year at our church we hold an Advent fair where the children of the congregation and their families are invited to come and create Advent crafts to kick off the season. We have started making our own nativities in the past few years as part of this crafting bonanza. Each year we have expanded the complexity in the nativity scene. Years ago we started out small with paper nativities: we began with coloring pages and then cut out members of the scene and glued them to brown construction paper. After a year or two we moved on to foam sticker 3-D sets. We stepped up after that to decoupaging stickers of nativity characters on wood blocks. Last year we hit our all-time best idea when we took wooden peg people and decorated them with old scraps of fabric and ribbons, elaborate and amazing. There is no shortage of great ideas on the internet for home-made nativity scenes. I found the inspiration for our peg people set on Pinterest and spent hours delving into pages of delightful ideas of how to paint faces, add hair, and glue on a few sparkles.
I realize after 10 years of leading our Advent craft fair that our church families have a wonderful collection of nativity sets that they have created at church. I hear back from children who find them at the beginning of Advent when their Christmas decorations are brought out. They remember making them and sharing that time with their church family.
In this year of socially distanced holidays and celebrations, I find that the nativity sets are a way that I can bring our children together. We are sharing our different creche scenes on our online Sunday school and encouraging the children to play with the people, sing their songs about the night of Jesus’ birth, and proclaim the good news by playing out the story with joy. It has brought a lot of joy to our gatherings to share the birth of Christ through play.