Making an outdoor nativity scene in your yard is a heartwarming project that can involve all the family. You will need to start planning in advice to gather all the materials you will need, and decide where your nativity scene should stand in your yard. Get the family together and brainstorm ideas for the scene. Some elements must be included, such as Joseph, Mary and the baby in the manger. But what other elements would you like to include? The star, an angel, shepherds, animals? Discuss what you would like to have included, and what you can reasonably expect to achieve.
Having chosen the spot for your nativity scene in your yard, start the general layout first. You may want to put down a plastic sheet to protect your scene from the damp, and lay straw over that, or you may have grand plans to build a real wooden manger. If you need to simplify, a canvas roofed gazebo from a garden store will do as a covering for your scene. You can hang lights on it, or cover it with plain hessian for a more rustic look.
The manger for the baby will be the centrepiece of your nativity scene. You can use a wooden orange crate, a cane bassinet, or a pile of straw. Be sure to choose materials in very good condition that will last as long as your scene is displayed. You can raise the manger on a trestle table so that it looks more like a real manger (which comes from the Latin 'to eat') which was a trough filled with hay or corn that animals fed from.
Fix a star to the top of the covering for your nativity scene. You can go all out on this, and choose the brightest, most beautiful star you can find, which lights up. A battery or solar powered star is the best choice, unless you can be absolutely sure that you have a safe electric power source and a yard safe electric lead to run power to the star.
Deck your scene with small Christmas tree lights, and place spot lighting within the scene to pick out key elements. You want everything to stand out at night, but remember that safety is the most important consideration. If your scene is not covered, the Star of Bethlehem and other lights can hang from trees around the scene.
Mary and Joseph need to be placed either side of the Christ Child. You can use shop dummies bought second hand, or cut out large figures from sheet Styrofoam, or thick chipboard, and paint them. If you want to buy large nativity figures that you can keep year after year, you can get them from Christmas Night Inc. To purchase an outdoor nativity scene made out of plywood, go to Nativity Scene Outdoor.
A good way to involve the children in setting up the scene is to let them choose large stuffed animals to include in the scene. The scale may be off, and some of the animals chosen might not quite fit, but the love with which they are placed their will bring immeasurable charm to your nativity scene.
Other elements you can include are hanging lanterns (safer to leave them unlit because canvas and straw poses a fire danger) and small treasure chests for the gifts of the Magi. A concealed source of music playing Christmas carols will add to the ambiance.
The most important element is, of course, the Christ Child. A beautiful baby doll wrapped in a blanket for swaddling should be placed in the manger. It is up to you whether it should be placed there in the days before Christmas, but it is traditional to place the Christ Child in the manger on the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve.
Making an outdoor nativity scene is not only a great project for all the family, it also a wonderful way to teach your children about the true meaning of Christmas - taking the Christ Child out to lay in the manger is always a special moment that every family will cherish.