Christmas is quickly approaching, and what better way for children to embrace the story of our Lord’s birth than a nativity set? Their doll-like aspect naturally appeals to children, and of course the animals are a big draw too! If you live in Montreal, or are visiting over the Christmas season, why not make the crèches at Saint Joseph’s oratory (http://www.saint-joseph.org/fr/le-sanctuaire/le-musee) part of your celebrations? Their website even has a virtual advent calendar, with a different nativity set each day.
What about at home? Do you have a set that your children can play with? I knew when buying our family’s nativity set that I wanted it to withstand the engagement of children, so we started with a resin set of the Holy Family, and later added a shepherd and wise men. For the animals we decided to go with plastic animals made for children’s play. Once our son came along, we actually let him keep the animals year-round, and he lends them to the nativity set each year. My husband grew up with an odd assortment of animals at the stable, so we continued the tradition of letting all creation—from penguins to aardvarks—join in the worship of the new-born king, a fun approach for young children!
Ten Thousand Villages is a great place to look for nativity sets made from a variety of materials (https://www.tenthousandvillages.ca/shop/en/38-nativities): wood and fabric versions would be especially good for young families.
Of course, some of the major toy companies also make nativity sets that will really stand up to play. My favourites are by Playmobil: they have one in the toddler-safe Playmobil 1.2.3 line (http://www.playmobil.ca/en/christmas-manger/6786.html), as well as a more detailed set for older children (http://www.playmobil.ca/en/nativity-stable-with-manger/5588.html).
For older children, the best engagement of all may come with making your own nativity set. There is really no limit to the creativity that can be employed, and a simple internet search will give you many ideas! This year, my six-year-old son and I made the one pictured in an afternoon. The people are based on a the shape of a paper cup (which I cut up and then traced on to coloured card), and a variety of scraps of card and paper. If you want to go even simpler, a wonderful ready-to-print (and colour, if you like) version is available from Made by Joel (http://madebyjoel.com/2012/12/paper-city-nativity-scene.html). Clay and wood would also be great materials for making a set!
Whether you buy it or make it, I hope you will include a nativity set (or several) in your Christmas celebrations, and keep your family’s focus on welcoming the incarnate Lord into your lives!