Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Nativity Set Collection

by Anita Mae Draper

We interrupt the regularly scheduled 19th Century Sleigh post series to bring you this photo-journal of information on Nativity sets I've collected through the years. This decision wasn't taken lightly but with the assurance that there will still be snow - probably lots more of the white stuff, in January and and the topic will still be current at that time.

This post is actually a spin-off from Inky Susanne Dietze's contribution to the 12 Days of Inkies, Two Babies in the Manger. In the post, Susanne asked about our Nativity sets and after listing all mine, interest was shown in actually seeing them.

I didn't start out collecting Nativity sets although I crafted my first manger scene as a child. While growing up, our house contained the usual commercial images of Christmas and Santa Claus, but not a single Baby Jesus. Neither did my own home in the first few years of our marriage which hits a milestone 35th anniversary today. (Yowza!)

That changed in the mid-80's (collecting the Nativity scenes, not the marriage) when I saw a large Nativity scene go on the local auction block. I wanted it on sight and for whatever reason - probably because it needed a paint job - I won it with my $2.00 bid. Of course hubby thought I was crazy, but that was nothing new. *grin*

20+ yr old Wooden Nativity Scene - 4 Feet High

The above photo was taken about 6 yrs ago after 4 moves and 20 seasons of use - all without repainting it. We'd always meant to paint it, but never got around to it. Now, it's falling apart from all the flooding we've suffered these past few years. I miss it every time I look out my kitchen window and see the place it used to stand.

I liked that outdoor set so much, I bought a small wood and moss manger scene for inside. It contained rubbery vinyl pieces of Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, 3 kings, a donkey and a resting cow. The kids always played with this set and I didn't mind because I wanted them to have a 'hands-on' approach to Jesus.

Up here in Canada instead of Black Friday, we have a Boxing Dale Sale on December 26th. It's our favourite day to shop. One year I was browsing a Boxing Day sale and saw this metallic on porcelain set. Yes, it looked tacky, but it appealed to me on some strange level and was only a couple dollars.

4.5" Metallic Paint on Porcelain Nativity Set

Then followed a succession of sets bought at 'after Christmas' sales:

4.5" Matte paint on Porcelain Nativity Set

4" Clear Glass Nativity Set on a Mirror
Left: 4.5" White Porcelain with Gold Trim
 Right: One Piece Resin Nativity

Every December I set out the above Nativity sets in my east-facing kitchen window:

The east-facing Kitchen Window at Draper's Acres.

About this time the stable in the kids' Nativity set fell apart and I noticed the only pieces left were Mary, Baby Jesus, 2 kings, and the donkey. At the same time, it seemed the pieces of the little set I'd placed in the bathroom moved every time I saw them, so this became the family play set. Yes, I said the family play set because I was just as wont to set it to my satisfaction as anyone else. It just seemed natural to look it over while washing and drying your hands, then shift a piece or two before your go. However, I must state emphatically that I wasn't the one to break the cow's horn off. Nope. Wasn't me.

Entire family plays with this 2" mini Nativity set in bathroom.

A funny thing happened as we set out the Nativity sets each year...we decided we'd rather display them in our limited space than Santa decorations. And we always bought them on sale.

Balsa wood stable and 3" resin figurines Nativity set.

Large 6" heavy breakable resin? Nativity set.

4" Solid Metal Nativity Set

One piece 8" Musical Nativity Set

Along the way we found some to add to the Christmas tree...

4" Musical Tree Ornament

3" Metal 'cut-out' Nativity scene tree hanger ornament.

And then there was the one Jessie was going to buy for a friend except she accidently dropped it in the store and Baby Jesus' head broke off. *sigh*

4" Porcelain 4 piece Nativity set w/broken Baby Jesus.

Finally is this large irridescent set we bought at a second-hand store. It's our only Nativity scene with camels. Big camels. This year, Nick asked for and received the honour of setting it up. You can't go downstairs without coming eye-to-eye with this wonderful display of Jesus' birth.

6" high Porcelain Nativity set w/irridescent finish and gold trim on kings.  

Overkill? Perhaps, although every Nativity set is different. And the way I see it, everywhere we look, we're reminded of the true meaning of Christmas.

As you can see, many of these Nativity scenes show the presence of the 3 kings/wisemen. Matthew 2:1 says, "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem."

Further along, verses 9b-11 say, "...and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh." This is the main scripture concerning the arrival of the eastern kings and it doesn't say how old Jesus was at that time.

Since there is no other season to celebrate this bowing down of kings to our Lord while He walked on this earth, my family doesn't mind having them at Jesus' birth. The same goes for the 'Star of Bethlehem' because if the wisemen weren't present, the star wasn't either since it's only mentioned in scripture when the 3 kings/wisemen appear.

We don't mind compressing time and showcasing these events as if they happened together on one special night long ago. Look at all the extra bystanders in this Nativity set. Not only are there the 3 wisemen, but there's even a drummer. And Joseph has a staff like a shepherd's crook. Carpenters don't carry staffs. I'm not even sure if Joseph is beside Mary in the green or in the blue on the right.

3" breakable resin? Nativity scene.

Does it really matter, or is the symbolism sufficient?

What pieces do you think a Nativity set should contain?


Anita Mae Draper is retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan, Canada with her hubby of 30 plus years and 2 of their 4 kids. She writes stories set on the prairies of Saskatchewan, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. Anita Mae has semi-finaled in the Historical Romance category of the ACFW's 2011 Genesis contest and finaled in the Inspirational category of the 2011 Daphne du Maurier, the 2011 Fool for Love, the 2011 Duel on the Delta and 2009 Linda Howard Award of Excellence contests. You can find her at http://www.anitamaedraper.com/


  1. I really enjoyed this Anita. Thanks for sharing your nativity sets.

    I guess we would all miss the Magi if they were removed. The other unknown is the stable which was likely a stable cave or something unlike a wooden barn or lean to. The manger was likely stone and mortar rather than wood. Who knows? Somewhere we have the impression Mary wore sky blue and white. I have the feeling a lot of what we base these on is an artist's rendition from very long ago.

    I think we're okay with being close enough because its all about the birth!

  2. My goodness that's a lot. I also have the 4" Clear Glass Nativity Set on a Mirror. It's in my formal living room. And just a basic one on the divider between kitchen and great room.

  3. Very cool, Anita. I really like the metal cut-out hanging ornament. I'd like to have one of those. It appears in the shape of the cross. Very nice.

  4. I enjoyed seeing all your nativity sets, Anita! Thanks for welcoming us into your home. I like it when a nativity set has all sorts of characters. Especially lots of animals. When playing with ours growing up, my favorite piece was always the angel. I just thought she was so beautiful... Even if angels aren't really female and probably more awe-inspiring than pretty and frilly.

  5. Really neat collection, Anita. I have an inexpensive set, similar to the iridescent one, but smaller and without the gold accents. And I didn't put it out this year because of the new kitten. In fact, I haven't put up half of what I usually track up from the basement. :(

    I've known people who had a fit if there were kings in the nativity. And I've known others who either refused to put the baby in the manger, or who would leave the manger empty until Christmas.

    And I can't say I've seen Joseph with a shepherd's crook either--although I've seen him with a walking stick.

  6. Good morning, Deb. I agree that the stable was probably a stone cave since they were in abundance and Jerusalem is set among the hills. But if the public insists on authenticity, manufacturers may make Nativity scenes that look like stone caves, but they won't be using the real thing in its composition. So it still wouldn't be authentic. Good observation though, so thank you.

    Yes, it's all about the birth. Which brings Susie's Nativity set to mind where her children added the stormtrooper, etc. I read that to JJ and he laughed so hard. I think he'd get along great with your son, Susie.


  7. Hey Dina, you have good taste. The clear glass one is a beautiful set.

    Now that you mention it, I didn't buy that one at an 'after Christmas' sale, but at a closing out sale for a Christian gift and book store. I almost didn't get it because I felt so guilty at not supporting the store when they needed customers, but we'd only lived here a few years and I never knew about it until then.

    Honestly though, when I look at the set, I don't feel guilt, but joy.

    Thanks for sharing, Dina.

  8. Oh, Suzie. Another Inky with good taste. :)

    And now that you've singled that one out, I realize I never bought it at all, but received it as a gift from someone else with good taste. :)

    Because I used to work with wood, I appreciate anything 'cut-out' whether it's made of fabric and thread, wood, metal, or what have you. This ornament was probably mass-produced using a laser cutter, but still, someone down the line had to take a lot of time and effort to design it.

    And as you pointed out, Suzie, designing the whole scene on the shape of a cross took a high level of God-given creativity.

    Although this is a tree ornament, I always hang it against the wood background on my dining room hutch where everyone can see it as they pass from the kitchen/dining room to the rest of the house.

    I wish I knew where it was bought because I'd love to buy a dozen of them as gifts.

    I'm glad you mentioned this one, Suzie. Thank you. :)

  9. Thank you, Lisa and you're welcome. I have to admit, I hesitated over showing you my kitchen sink... lol

    Yes, lots of animals just seems right somehow.

    And angels. I really like to display the white porcelain with gold trim set in the kitchen window because I can put the angel on the tiny ledge above them. Then I twine a couple of the evergreen branches around her to keep her in place.

    See... I call the angel a 'her'. I guess because I think of angels being either him or her, like us even though I know they aren't. I'd much rather refer to them with a gender pronoun than to call them an 'it'. Seems more personal that way.

    Thanks for sharing, Lisa.

  10. I love all of them!
    Growing up we had a VERY old set that had belonged to my great-grandmother. I don't know what happened to it.
    Today we have most of what is left of a porcelain? set I picked up at Walmart right after we got married. One of the wise men lost his head a few years back.
    I still put out the two we have left, I just put them as far away as possible from the holy family and the shepherd... as if they are traveling, which they would have been.

  11. Thank you, Barb. I'd love to see your Nativity sets. Maybe you can do a similar post next year?

    About the baby in the manger - usually you can't separate the baby from the manger in the indoor Nativity sets. And when you can, it's easy to lose the babe. Or break it, like the 4 pc set where the baby's head broke off.

    Praise God His Son can't be broken like the Nativity sets used to remember His birth!

    Yes, a walking stick is plausible since they walked everywhere on uneven ground. But a walking stick doesn't have the crook part like a shepherd. Can you imagine if Jesus used a shepherd's crook to keep us in line? There you are, doing what you know you shouldn't be doing and...ack!...you're yanked backwards and away from temptation.

    It might solve the over-crowding in the judicial system, but we'd live in a a world of fear. Ugh. Not for me, thank you.

    Getting back to the Babe in the manger, we sometimes left the manger empty in our big outdoor set and then added Baby Jesus late Christmas Eve. Usually our weather dictated the event, however because what I hated most was footsteps leading to the manger scene. If it was windy and snowing when we put Him out, our tracks would be covered. If not, our footsteps would be too obvious and it would spoil the whole effect.

    Of course, the snow usually covered the manger as well, but usually a quick prayer took care of that - especially when I raised an arm straight up. As long as anyone could see that little hand poking up, the manger scene was complete.

    Thanks for your thoughts, Barb.


  12. Hey Niki, did you ever ask your family if someone had a photo of your great-grandmother's set? That would be something from a historic point-of-view, to see the changes over the years.

    Did you try gluing the broken wiseman's head back on? 'Goop' does wonders on almost every surface.

    Good thinking to have the 2 remaining wisemen traveling to your Nativity set. It's still displayed and biblically correct. :)

    This year the boys are requesting to set out the Nativity scenes, so I'm letting them - except for my kitchen window - and I noticed the matte painted porcelain set is on the flat-screen TV stand this year. I believe JJ set it up on the corner after he did the dusting the other day. What I like is that he has most of the scene in the front of the TV, but the wisemen are in single file curving around the back. It really looks good and none of the wisemen are hidden because we're looking at the TV's profile as we walk down the hall toward it. He really put some thought into it. :)

    Thanks, for sharing, Niki. And no, I won't ask who did the 3rd wiseman in, although I am curious.


  13. Thanks for the post, Anita! I loved seeing your pictures. I can't pick a favorite of your scenes. They are all wonderful and unique.

    I am all for the wise men being at the manger with everybody else. I know it's not accurate, but it doesn't bother me one whit. One relative disapproves of Nativity scenes with more figures than just the Holy Family.

    But I am perfectly content with more figures: a drummer boy, townspeople, etc. Remember, though, this is coming from me, the woman with a Yoda and Polly Pocket in her Nativity set.

    We also have Nativity ornaments, a woodblock set, a tin set, and several resin ones. And of course, the Playmobils...

  14. Aha! I knew you had lots more than you mentioned in your post, Susie. You will take photos of them, now that they're all on display, right? Then you can show them to us next year, too.

    I think displaying Nativity scenes at Christmas on our Faith blog is a wise use of our time. But then, so is posting recipes and I think I missed that post. Will have to go look... something about powdered sugar... got it... Through a Powdered Sugar Haze by Barb Early. It was your 12 Days of Inkies post, wasn't it, Barb? Will have to go back and see what you looked like as a kid. :D

    But back to Susie, I really like that you left the Lego Yoda, stormtrooper and Polly Pocket in your manger scene. JJ, too. Good decision, Mom. :)

    Thanks, Susie. Don't forget to take those pics... I'm especially looking forward to the woodblock set.

  15. Nice sets, Anita.

    We only have one, kind of a porcelain type. And I don't mind compressing the time one bit. Otherwise, we'd need two nativity sets, and that would be awkward. I think the important part is the emphasis on Jesus being God's gift to all, whether they be Jew or gentile, meek and lowly or wise and wealthy.

    In some cultures, they commemorate the arrival of the Magi as a separate celebration on January 6. I know some people who don't take their Christmas decorations down until after Epiphany.

  16. On my way home I started wondering what animals were really there. Did they grow and harvest something like alfalfa. I wonder if there were cattle what they ate. They're a bit fussier than sheep and goats.

    Hmmmm inquiringly minds want to know.

  17. Anita, I'm an admirer of cut-work, too. How cool that you have experience doing that.

    I think I would enjoy it on the wall more than a tree because the detail wouldn't get lost against the wall.

    I'm going to see if I can find one somewhere.

    Happy anniversary!

  18. Thanks, CJ. Excellent attitude.

    We won't be taking our decorations down until Epiphany this year either because Jessie asked us not to since she won't be home until Jan 1st.

    Up here on the prairies, we refer to the Epiphany as Ukrainian Christmas and since that's a huge part of Saskatchewan's heritage, it fits right in. :)


  19. Good question, Deb. Sheep and goats for sure. I doubt they had cattle though, because it was too big to butcher without proper refrigeration.

    Have you ever heard the story about the animals having the ability to talk that night?


  20. Thank you, Suzie. We're on our way back from the city where we had a great buffet meal with my sister and her family. They gave us a nice scripture plaque with Happy 35th. I can't believe I've been married that long.

  21. Oh, happy anniversary!!

    Love all the nativity sets. :D

  22. wow! love all your Nativity sets Anita. and i thought i had a lot at four nativity sets. one set cannot really be said to be complete because lots of pieces have gone missing over the years. it was the Nativity set my mom had as we were growing up. i sort of inherited it when my mom combined households when she remarried. several moves later, parts MIA *sigh*
    i like having all the characters, even if the timeline is off. i like having a bunch of sheep too, since that area of the world was more sheep and goats.
    i'm planning on allowing my little guy plenty of hands on with the Natvity under the tree, using each time he touches a piece as a teaching time about the Christmas story as I tell him who/what that piece represents.

    and i hope your Anniversary was wonderful. CONGRATS!!!!!!

  23. Thank you, Deb. My anniversary was wonderful because we shared it with family. :)

    Kudos to you for letting Nathaniel play with one of your Nativity sets. It's so important for someone his age and you'll have the reassurance that no matter where his life takes him, he'll always carry the seeds you've planted in him that are just waiting to take root.

    The set you inherited from your mom may not be complete, but it's still important. A brand-new-exactly-the-same-with-all-the-pieces one will never replace the emotions you feel when you set it out each year and know that she handled it with love herself.

    Bless you, Deb.


  24. Oh! I totally forgot...Happy Anniversary!

  25. This was fun, Anita. Thanks for sharing. I'm one of those who leaves the decorations out until Three Kings Day, and I call it that even though I know full well there were an unknown number of magi. Funny how we get into habits like that.

    My main beef when it comes to nativity sets isn't the presence or absence or number of the magi as it is the seeming impossibility of finding one in which Mary and Joseph look at all Semitic. Am I crazy? I'd just like them to look as if they came from, y'know, Judea, instead of Gaul or Brittania. Ah, well...

    Happy Boxing Day!

  26. Hey, Kristen, I hope you enjoyed your Christmas. I'm curious though, when/what is Three Kings Day? You end with Happy Boxing Day, so I believe you're from the Commonwealth, but not Canadian. You've got me stumped and I have no time to google anything other than my research right now.

    I'd just like them to look as if they came from, y'know, Judea, instead of Gaul or Brittania.

    Yes, I can see your concern there because obviously, manufacturers are catering to causasians because they are the majority of buyers.

    What you need to do is find a Middle Eastern supplier. Have you googled to see if there are any? Shipping costs would be huge, but it may satisfy your sense of truth when you set it up each year.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Kirsten. You gave me much to think about. :)

  27. Thank you, Susie.

    Last year he got me a keurig and I'm still reaping the benefits.

    Some would say it's not personal enough, but what could be more meaningful to a writer? LOL


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