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Updated December 2021
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Buying guide for Best Nativity scene sets

The date marking the birth of Jesus Christ is one of the most sacred holidays on the Christian calendar, and many households celebrate it by putting up a Nativity display during the Christmas season. Finding the ideal Nativity scene set depends on a number of factors, including your budget, the size, the materials, and the artistic quality.

Some Nativity scenes are realistic depictions of the traditional birth story, while others are more abstract or symbolic. What matters most is the inclusion of a sacred display among the more secular trappings of the modern holiday season.

When looking for a new Nativity scene set you'll want to consider a few key factors. Whether it’s a large outdoor display or a more intimate arrangement on a mantel, a Nativity scene can be one of the centerpieces of any home’s holiday decorations.

nativity scene set
One of the earliest Nativity scene sets was discovered in a Christian catacomb dating back to AD 380.

How to buy the best Nativity scene set

Design

Many Nativity scene sets include realistic figurines to represent a traditional Nativity scene, from the infant Jesus in a manger to the Holy Family to the Magi. Some incorporate a more abstract design to suggest the elements of the Nativity. Arranging these pieces in the familiar tableau is an effective way to blend modern and traditional Christmas decorations.

Materials

Nativity sets are made of a wide variety of materials, each with its own special appeal.

Plastic: Many inexpensive sets are mass produced by plastic injection molding and aren’t meant to last more than a season or two.

Glass: This is a common material for more abstract figurines, but you can also find delicate glass pieces that are hand-painted for a more traditional display.

Plaster of paris: Some sets are made of molded and hand-painted molded plaster of paris.

Papier-mȃché: This is a common medium for homemade Nativity displays, although some commercial sets are available in this material too.

Ceramic, stone, and clay: Nativity scene sets can be made of ceramic, porcelain, marble, or polymer clay.

Metal: You can find more abstract Nativity sets made of metal, such as stainless steel.

Wood: You can find mid-priced Nativity scenes made of wood. Some manufacturers offer sets made from wood that was common during biblical times, such as olive or cypress. The most expensive Nativity scene sets are highly detailed and typically carved by hand from quality wood.

Polyresin: Some figurines are molded from durable polyresin and can include the same hand-carved details you might find in wooden figurines.

Size

When selecting a Nativity scene set, it’s important to consider the number of figurines included and the size of the completed display. Figurines are available in a wide range of sizes, from small versions suitable for a tabletop to life-size pieces designed to be displayed outdoors. Placing a Nativity scene at the base of the Christmas tree is also a popular idea. Just make sure the figurines are proportional to the size of the tree.

Style

There is no single design standard when it comes to these sets. There are many variations from simple to rustic to ornate to choose from. For households with a specific holiday decorating theme, such as elaborate Victorian or minimalist modern, you can find a Nativity set that matches the rest of your décor.

nativity scene set
DID YOU KNOW?
The world’s smallest Nativity scene is called the Nano Holy Family and can fit inside the eye of a needle.
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What features should I look for in a Nativity scene set?

Lighting

Illuminating a Nativity scene for nighttime display is an important consideration. Some manufacturers make this process easier by installing lights in certain elements, notably the crib and the Star of Bethlehem. Outdoor sets almost always incorporate lighting in all of the pieces for nighttime display. Additional illumination, such as pinpoint track lighting, LED strip lights, or a string of Christmas tree lights, is also helpful.

Storage

The number and nature of Nativity scene figurines make proper storage a high priority. Some manufacturers include the means for safely storing the set between seasons, which may be the original partitioned packaging or a special storage case. Each piece should be protected from damage from dropping, excessive heat, and other hazards.

Additional elements

Many people start with a basic Nativity scene featuring the Holy Family and a few additional figurines and add other figures later. Many manufacturers offer additional figurines and elements, such as shepherds, barnyard animals, and angels, as well as items like a barn, Star of Bethlehem, banners, and star fields if you’d like to expand your display from year to year.

A Nativity scene may also be known as a crib, manger scene, crèche, or presepe.

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How much do Nativity scene sets cost?

Inexpensive

The least expensive sets cost as little as $10, but the quality and durability will be hit-or-miss. Some Nativity sets constructed from papier-mȃché or another inexpensive material cost less than $25.

Mid-range

Nativity sets made of common materials such as wood, plastic, glass, or clay tend to cost between $25 and $75 in special holiday sections of stores or gift shops. The quality of the figurines is noticeably better, and these sets often contain additional pieces to complete the scene.

Expensive

Handcrafted Nativity scene sets and high-end commercial sets can easily cost $100 or more, depending on the manufacturer and the quality. These highly detailed sets are typically made of durable materials and designed to last for years.

nativity scene set
DID YOU KNOW?
The world’s largest Nativity scene is in Alicante, Spain. It has figurines that stand nearly 11 feet tall.
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Tips

  • Choose the right location for your Nativity scene. Place the Nativity set in a prominent spot with adequate lighting that’s also protected from curious children and pets.
  • Include younger family members when setting up the Nativity scene. Reading the Nativity story while your children add the figurines to the scene is a good way to introduce and continue Christmas traditions.
  • Consider adding your own accessories to the scene. Many people supplement the original Nativity scene with additions like straw, Christmas lights, ornaments, and music.
  • Learn the placement of each figurine. The position of each figure in the scene is essential information when setting up a traditional Nativity set.
nativity scene set
Traditionally, the figurine of Mary is placed closest to the manger, while the Wise Men (the last to arrive) are placed the farthest away.

FAQ

Q. When should I take down my Nativity scene set?

A. According to Christian tradition, the Nativity scene should remain on display until Twelfth Night (January 5) or Epiphany (January 6). It should be the last Christmas decoration you take down.

Q. How many figurines should a Nativity scene set contain?

A. There is no predetermined number of figurines required for a traditional Nativity scene, but most sets should contain a manger or crib with the infant Jesus, Joseph, Mary, Archangel Gabriel, the Three Wise Men (Magi), and several shepherds. Common barnyard animals like sheep might also be included, along with a chorus of angels and a Star of Bethlehem.

Q. Is a modern Nativity scene set biblically accurate?

A. Many of the elements in a Nativity set are based on actual events recounted in the New Testament gospels, such as Mary and Joseph, the Archangel Gabriel, and the Star of Bethlehem. However, other elements, such as the Three Magi and the barnyard animals, are based more on early Church tradition than biblical accounts.

Q. Are there Nativity scene sets suitable for young children?

A. Yes, there are a number of Nativity scenes designed specifically for interactive play by younger children. The figurines, perhaps made of polyresin or plastic, are much more durable than those found in traditional display sets. A Nativity set for children is a good way to introduce them to the religious aspects of the Christmas season.

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