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The Ultimate Guide to Organizing a Live Nativity: Celebrate Christmas with a Memorable Experience

Nativity scenes have always held a special place in our hearts during the Christmas season. They capture the essence of the Holy Family and the extraordinary events of that first Christmas. But have you ever...

Nativity scenes have always held a special place in our hearts during the Christmas season. They capture the essence of the Holy Family and the extraordinary events of that first Christmas. But have you ever thought about bringing a nativity scene to life with real people and a realistic setting? A Live Nativity can take your Christmas celebrations to a whole new level, making a profound impact on believers and non-believers alike.

If you've been contemplating the idea of staging a Live Nativity through your organization or place of worship, you may have wondered how to get started. You might have even hesitated, thinking it would be too time-consuming or expensive. Well, we're here to tell you that with proper planning and organization, a Live Nativity can be one of the most rewarding outreach events for your church or group.

Begin Early: Lay a Solid Foundation

The key to a successful Live Nativity is starting early. Late summer or early fall is the perfect time to begin preparations. Choose a suitable location for your event and set the dates. The front lawn of your church can be a great option, and the weekends preceding Christmas are usually ideal.

After setting the dates and location, plan an organizational meeting for volunteers. Extend a personal invitation to people of all ages who you believe would be interested in being involved. Remember, the more people you have on board, the easier the task will be.

During this meeting, encourage brainstorming and discussion to determine the scope of your Live Nativity. You can decide if you want to create a simple stable or present different stages of the Holy Family's journey on the night Christ was born.

Key Participants: Bringing the Story to Life

To organize a Live Nativity, you'll need individuals to fill various roles. Here are the key participants you should consider:

  • Actors: Mary, Joseph, Angel, Shepherds, Wise Men, Innkeeper, and more. A realistic baby doll is usually the best choice for Baby Jesus, but if there's a willing new mother with a newborn baby, that can be an option too.

  • Costume Coordinator: Responsible for finding, making, or purchasing costumes and costume pieces for all characters in the Live Nativity.

  • Animal Wrangler: Handles the transportation and care of live sheep, donkeys, cows, and other animals. Live animals add an extra touch of realism and fun, especially for children. The extra effort is definitely worth it.

  • Greeters: Welcome guests and explain any rules or wait times to visit different aspects of your Live Nativity.

  • Musicians and/or Singers: Entertain guests before or after they visit the Live Nativity.

  • Refreshment Coordinator: Manages donations and sets up light food and beverages for guests. Hot chocolate, coffee, water, and cookies are all you need to keep things simple.

  • Publicist: Responsible for coordinating information and photos for local media outlets and social media sites.

Remember to emphasize that attending the initial volunteer meeting is not a commitment to working at the event. The meeting should be a platform for everyone to share their experiences with other Live Nativities, discussing what worked well and what didn't. Take notes and gather ideas to make your Nativity fresh and exciting.

Also, include a prayer during this meeting, highlighting the impact the Live Nativity can have on the community. Afterward, contact individuals for specific roles, inviting them to the next meeting, which can double as a rehearsal.

Living nativity manger scene at church Living nativity manger scene at church

Dress Rehearsal: Bringing it all Together

In the next meeting, if your actors will be speaking, provide them with their scripts and read through them together. Offer tips on learning lines, projecting their voices, and engaging with a live audience.

Make your expectations clear for the Live Nativity. Discuss costuming and the importance of staying in character. Costumes need not be fancy, but they should reflect the New Testament era as closely as possible. Consider appointing volunteers to coordinate costumes and head coverings for participants. Remember, even the smallest details, like appropriate footwear, can make a big difference in creating an authentic atmosphere.

Stress that your group is presenting "the story of stories" and that it is a tremendous responsibility. Avoid any anachronisms that might disrupt the carefully planned historical event. Be sure to address animal care specifics to ensure the safety and security of the animals and your guests. Don't forget about food, water, and clean-up duties that come with having live animals on-site.

Be Weather-Wise: Preparing for the Unexpected

One of the biggest challenges in planning an outdoor Live Nativity is the unpredictable winter weather. Wind, rain, snow, or ice can throw a wrench in your plans. To keep your guests and participants comfortable, consider providing the following:

  • Umbrellas for guests.
  • Wood chips for potentially muddy areas where guests and actors will be walking and performing.
  • Portable heaters or fire pits near actors' stations.
  • Ways to anchor down or cover scenery items that might blow away or get wet.

Children in manger scene Children in manger scene

After this second meeting, schedule at least one dress rehearsal. This is a crucial gathering where you will stage and time the entire event. Ask participants to have their lines and costumes ready well in advance. It's a good idea to document this rehearsal with photos and short videos that can be used for publicity purposes in the future.

Publicize: Sharing the Joy of the Live Nativity

To create awareness and attract visitors, publicize your Live Nativity event effectively. Consider the following:

  • Signs announcing the event, such as a giant lighted star above your church or a searchlight to draw attention.
  • Small printed invitations for your congregation to hand out to community members.
  • Bales of hay for seating.
  • Holiday tracts and information about Christmas services to distribute to guests.
  • Reserved parking for guests and volunteer parking attendants.

Take Notes and Learn from the Experience

Throughout the planning process, make it a habit to take notes. You'll have moments of clarity and revelations about what works and what doesn't. These notes will be invaluable when debriefing with your team and considering ideas for improvement.

Remember to focus on Christ throughout the entire process. Understand that not everything will go according to plan. The weather might not cooperate, someone might fall ill, or props may go missing. However, if you maintain a strong focus on Jesus, approach challenges with grace and positivity, and keep prayer at the center, you can be confident that most things will go smoothly.

After the final performance, ask participants to save everything that can be used again for future events. Even if you haven't committed to hosting a Live Nativity next year, storing costumes and props will save time and effort in case you decide to do it again.

Gather Feedback and Celebrate Success

Finally, schedule a debriefing meeting to gather feedback and celebrate the success of your Live Nativity. Try to hold this meeting before the holiday season ends, ensuring that everyone's thoughts and ideas are fresh. Keep the atmosphere positive and light as you discuss experiences and suggestions for improvement.

Consider sending out a few questions in advance to team members, allowing them to reflect on their feedback. Encourage specific suggestions about what worked well and what could be improved. Don't forget to express gratitude to everyone involved and end the meeting with a prayer, acknowledging God's hand in the entire endeavor.

Wishing you a blessed Christmas as you embark on this exciting journey of organizing a Live Nativity. May it be a joyful and transformative experience for all who participate and witness the story come to life.