VirginiaLynne is a mother of five. She writes about parenting, crafts, and games for children, family fun, and Christian ministry ideas.
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.
Flat Wood Painting
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 for blowing 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 which 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 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.
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 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 which has many figures and stretches across a full front yard. In addition, I found and 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 in the 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.
I love the old-fashioned smaller plastic Mary, Joseph, and Jesus sets which look like they are from the 1950s. Some of them may actually be that old, but I did see them at Walmart a few years ago. These plastic figures are about 2 feet high and usually, light up from the inside, but I've also often seen people use floodlights to illuminate them too. 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 light weight, 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 come alive. 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 and 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 is 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.
Decorations From Lights
Probably the easiest to find displays are these lighted sets that appear at most stores during the season. They come in several versions:
Classic White: Most of the wire and light nativity scenes use white lights only. These are beautiful and classic at night but are not easy to see during the day. There are many versions of the white lighted scenes and additional pieces of animals, wise men, shepherds and angels can be used throughout the yard.
Colored Light: To make them show up during the day, some of them use colored plastic or glittered colored fabric over the wires.
- Advantages: Lighted sets are easy to find and you might be able to get one at Target, Walmart or another large store that sells Christmas decorations. They are flat and lightweight for easy storing and setting up. Because they are large, you really only need a few pieces to decorate your whole yard. However, since they do need to have the lights working, you might want to make sure that you can replace the lights if they go out.
- Disadvantages: Although they are lightweight, they are bigger and you will need a place to store them. You will need to check the lights each year and replace ones that aren't working. This type of display looks nice at night but isn't very interesting or noticeable during the day.
Another easy way to put an outdoor scene in your yard is to use a large banner or flag. Staple the banner to two stakes or fly on a flagpole. These could also be displayed inside a window. For nighttime viewing, you can illuminate with floodlights. Although this is a less dramatic display , it is one that can be used by people in apartments, for someone who is not crafty or is on a small budget.
- Advantages: Very easy to install and store as well as inexpensive. A variety of flags or banners are available to purchase and many have beautiful classic styling or use famous paintings.
- Disadvantages: These tend to catch the wind and fall down easily. It helps if you display them close to a building which can break the wind. You will probably need a floodlight to show them off at night. Banners are not as interesting or striking as other nativity displays.
Paint on Your Windows
Businesses paint their windows for the holidays, and you can use this idea to paint your own Nativity Scene on a front window. I saw this done at our local YMCA and although the painting job isn't professional (and my photo doesn't do it justice), it gives you an idea of how easy this could be to do. All you need is:
- Acrylic Paint from craft store or Walmart ($1-2 a 1oz. bottle)
- Paint brushes of different sizes and Q-Tips (for dots)
- water and paper towels for cleaning brushes and window.
- razor blade for final clean-up
- Clean the window well and let it dry. For best protection from weather, plan to paint on the inside of the window.
- Use markers to draw the outlines of your picture. You can use pictures in a large coloring book or copy a picture from a Christmas card or anything you see online. If you have a large drawing, you can tape it up to one side of the window and then use the marker to trace it.
- Paint Highlights. Use white or black paint to do highlights, details and outlines on the painting FIRST. This is a reverse of the way you would usually paint, but remember that what you put down first on the window is what the viewer outside will see.
- Paint Fill-in Colors. Let the highlights dry thoroughly and then come back and fill in the rest.
- Clean-Up: Acrylic paints wash off with water but they will stain clothes, so be sure you are careful or wear paint clothes as you work. If you make a mistake as you paint, just use a paper towel to wipe off wet paint, or scrape of dry paint with a razor blade.
- Removing Painted Window: An easy way to remove your paint after the holiday is to just scrape off the paint with a sharp razor blade held at a 45-degree angle. You can then wash off anything left with regular window cleaner.
Repaint a Used Set
Recycled Nativity Scene
Want a Nativity Scene but don't have wood crafting tools? Try our idea. We found this Wooden Nativity Scene and the Angel at the Goodwill. Oddly enough, the Nativity is signed "Virginia!" I'm not too impressed with this other Virginia's painting skills but I'm planning to refurbish this by repainting it and sprucing it up. Not only am I getting a Nativity Scene expensively, I'm also reducing the landfill this way. Hopefully, I can match the two pieces in style. I'll post pictures when I finish.
Solar Powered Spotlight: Because we are trying to reduce our carbon footprint, we have gotten some solar powered spot lights for our yard and used one to light up our Christmas Nativity. These last several years and can be used for lighting year round at no cost. We've had ours for a couple of years now and are very pleased with how they work on sunny days. However, on cloudy days they don't produce much light, so these are best for homes in areas with lots of sun in the winter.
Anna Christie from London, United Kingdom on November 13, 2014:
How nice to make your own nativity scenes. What a great hub.
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on November 08, 2014:
I don't know the value. You might want to check on E-Bay.
Jennifer on November 06, 2014:
Where did you find the painted metal nativity scene? I have one and was wondering the valve?
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on August 22, 2013:
Thanks so much TopTen--My family has been doing the exact same thing, and that is how I came up with this idea. Actually, my very favorite Nativity Scene had been taken down before I finally got my camera out to take pictures, but I'm heading back over to that neighborhood this year to try to get it! I also need to get out my own Nativity and get it re-painted and ready to go!
Brandon Hart on August 22, 2013:
I'm shocked by the detail that went into this. My family and I drive around each year looking for nativities to get ideas of what we should put in our front yard. You've certainly contributed to that!
Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on December 31, 2012:
Happiest New Year to you too!
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 31, 2012:
Happy New Year my friend! Thank you for this past year.