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12 Christmas Nativity Scene Ideas

VirginiaLynne is a mother of five. She writes about parenting, crafts, games for children, family fun, and Christian ministry ideas.

A guide to different ideas for how to set up your Christmas nativity scenes.

A guide to different ideas for how to set up your Christmas nativity scenes.

Point to the True Meaning of the Holiday!

Want a manger scene in your yard to show the true meaning of Christmas? Here are 12 unique manger scene ideas. Some are homemade and original, others are store-bought. In addition, my pictures show interesting ideas for displaying and lighting.

For several years, I've been searching stores for a nativity for my yard and found very little available. So I made it my quest to photograph every different outdoor scene I saw to help other people get ideas of how to bring the meaning of Christmas to your home decorations.

Painted Panels With Floodlights

Painting on wood panels can make a lovely display. In fact, this is one of my favorite ideas, and I'd like to make one like it someday. Although you do need to be able to draw and paint, you don't have to be original. Many lovely Christmas cards have pictures you can copy. You can have a talented friend do the outlining for you or use a projector to blow an image up. You can purchase these or try making your own using the video below.

Painting with acrylic or oils on wood also allows you to make mistakes and cover them up with more details. Panel scenes don't require a jig saw to cut out, and you can design them in two or three sections with hinges so that they can fold up for easier storage. To get the best effect at night, you will probably need to use floodlights to illuminate.

  • Advantages: Can paint in any style from classical to country. Easy to fold and store. Can make a large display that makes a statement in a yard. Needs to have nighttime illumination.
  • Disadvantages: Requires some ability to draw, paint, and sometimes cut wood.

Wood Cut Outs With Spotlights

Perhaps the most stand-out Nativity scenes are those cut out of wood and painted. These can be made in classic or country styles and in any size. One of my favorite childhood memories is of life-sized figures being set up on a hill full of Olive Trees near my home. I saw a similar one this year near my home but unfortunately did not get pictures of it. Still, it is the one I eventually want to make! In the pictures above, you can see how these wooden figures vary in style and are all unique.

  • Advantages: Cut-out figures are dramatic and can be made to fit your own style and décor. These can be made at home with good woodworking tools and someone who can paint. You might be able to get someone else to do this for you who has these skills. These can be inexpensive to make but do take some time.
  • Disadvantages: These can be heavy to put up and store. They need to be firmly put up by stakes or other supports, so they don't blow down in the wind. You will need some sort of spotlight to illuminate them too.

Collage Figures

A local craft store offers several different collage-type decorations made from wood and fabric. These Nativities are often in a country or rustic style with minimal painting.

  • Advantages: These would be simple to make since they are made mostly with 1" wood available at any hardware store. They have easy designs to paint too. You would only need a jigsaw or scroll saw to cut the wood shapes. You can color it to match your house.
  • Disadvantages: If you use fabric, these are a bit more delicate. Because they are smaller, they don't really fill up a yard display. They work best next to a front door.


White silhouettes are what I see most frequently when I look on the web. The picture shows the most common scene that is often for sale on Amazon or eBay, along with a much larger one that has many figures and stretches across a full front yard. In addition, I found an interesting cowboy bowing down to a cross which was in a yard near my house.

  • Advantages: These silhouettes are easy to purchase and set up in a yard and fold for storage. They look good day and night and are easy to see. If they are made of wood, they may be heavy. In addition, you can make these if you have a good hand with a jigsaw. They don't require any special painting skills and can probably be spray painted. Moreover, they could be easily re-painted when they start looking worn.
  • Disadvantages: If made of wood, these can be heavy and might require good support in the wind. You generally need a good spotlight to illuminate them at night, although I've also seen people use white lights and lighted figures around them. In some neighborhoods, these can be more common and less individual.

Display in Front Windows

Have a large but valuable or delicate Nativity to display? Here is a wonderful window display I came across one day while driving. It had a large ceramic set displayed in a large bay window. Although I almost passed it by during the day, at night, the display lights up dramatically.

  • How to do a window display. Using a bay window and white drapery, this family has their ceramic set displayed in the front window. You probably don't really need a bay window to do this effect. Using a large cardboard box draped with white sheets or fabric, you could create a stage for your figures in front of any large window.
  • Advantages: This type of display lets you share your set with others and decorates your house. I know a family who had their baby Jesus stolen from their small plastic outside display, so if you are concerned about theft, this can be a good solution. In addition, I thought this would be a great way to display in places with lots of snow or bad weather.
  • Disadvantages: Can't see it very well in the daytime. From inside, it might make the room darker to have the curtains drawn all of the season. Also, many people prefer to put their tree in the window.

How Does Santa Fit Into Christmas?

Trying to explain how Santa and the Nativity Story work together at Christmas? I find the Santa bowing figures an interesting way to explain this to kids. The most common one I've seen is Santa kneeling before the Baby Jesus in the Creche. Another version is to have him kneeling in front of the cross. In one example pictured, they have the manger in front with the Santa kneeling in the back.

Plastic Sets

I love the old-fashioned smaller plastic Mary, Joseph, and Jesus sets which look like they are from the 1950s. Some may actually be that old, but I saw them at Walmart a few years ago. These plastic figures are about two feet high and usually light up from the inside, but I've also often seen people use floodlights to illuminate them. In some cases, the baby Jesus is removable so that you can leave the manger empty until Christmas.

  • Advantages: These scenes are easy to set up and can include just the three main figures, or sometimes they have shepherds and animals too. I liked the way this yard made a simple stable from logs and brown corrugated plastic. That protects the scene from the weather and also helps to highlight it. This family also incorporated the white lighted angels and a lighted star effectively.
  • Disadvantages: I haven't been able to find one of these (should have gotten that set I saw at Walmart!). They are also rather small and need to be connected to a light source. Since they are pretty lightweight, they will blow around in the wind. The one grouping around the tree is right down the street from me, and half the time when I drive by, I see the figures on the ground.

Life-Sized Resin Figures

One of my very favorite Nativity Scenes of the year is this lovely grouping. I have to say that if I could find one of these sets at a reasonable price, I would probably choose it for my display.

The vibrant colors and fine sculpting of these nearly life-sized figures bring the emotion of their faces to life. The resin allows for many life-like details in the animals, as well as Mary and Joseph. The addition of the lighted star on a pole and the wooden manger makes these yard decorations stand out. It uses three flood lights to highlight it at night. This yard did not have anything else, letting this stand on its own as a symbol of the meaning of Christmas.

Our new neighbors had a similar set that their family had hand-painted. Their front yard is rather small, so it was harder for them to display it. I did not get a good picture because one of the figures kept on falling over in the wind.

  • Advantages: Probably one of the most beautiful and dramatic displays. Kids will really enjoy viewing these pieces and imagining the scene and story. You really don't need anything else to decorate your yard.
  • Disadvantages: To properly display these pieces, you need a larger front yard that is flat. These pieces are big and hard to store, as well as being heavy or awkward to move. In addition, they are difficult to find and expensive. Generally, you will need to have a floodlight to show them off at night and might have to worry about them being stolen.


What is nice about these painted metal designs is that they look good both during the day and at night and are large enough to be seen easily from the street. There are several different metal scenes available in different sizes. I especially liked this nearly life-size painted one and the more rustic set with the saying "Love Came Down at Christmas."

  • Advantages: Metal figures are lightweight and can be stored either by taking them apart in sections or folding them down. Since they don't weigh much, they are easy to move.
  • Disadvantages: The thinner ones are also more easily bent in bad weather. I saw the large metal Nativity during heavy winds, and Joseph was bent over badly. When I went back later, he had been put upright again and didn't look damaged, so I assume that the design does allow for some flexibility. I also saw a smaller metal nativity, but in the wind storm, several pieces had been knocked down.