Making Nativity Scenes

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Katy Blake and Adam Navis tell about the tradition of building nativity scenes. These can be small or big – statues or even living! Why do people build these scenes?

Voice 1  

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Katy Blake.

Voice 2  

And I’m Adam Navis. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Click here to follow along with this program on YouTube.

‘Let me put the sheep in.’
‘I want to put the wise men in.’
‘Can I put the baby in?’

Voice 1  

These children are not just playing. They are making something together. It is something they build every year. It helps them remember an important event. Many people around the world build something like this every year at Christmas. It is a Nativity scene.

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At Christmastime they remember the story of the birth of one special baby, Jesus. He was born over 2000 years ago in a small town called Bethlehem. He was born in a stable, the place where animals were kept. The animals ate from a manger, or animal feed box. The baby used a manger as his crib or bed. Shepherds with their sheep visited him. And wise men from the East brought him gifts.

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All of these things are included in this model of the night of Jesus’ birth. The Nativity scene contains small figures or statues of the baby Jesus, Mary his mother, and her husband Joseph. Figures of the animals and those who visited the baby are also included. People put nativity scenes in their homes to remember Jesus’ birth. Today’s Spotlight is on nativity scenes.

A nativity scene
Photo by Myriam Zilles on Unsplash
Voice 2  

Naples, in Italy, is a city that is famous for making nativity scenes. The people of that city have used nativity scenes in churches for almost a thousand years. The nativity scenes from Naples are very special. Sometimes people build them in the shape of a tall triangle with a star at the top. A star guided the wise men from the East to Jesus. The nativity scenes always include Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. But they also have lots of extra every-day people and objects. The largest nativity scene in the world is in Naples. It has 162 people, 80 animals, angels and about 450 smaller objects.

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Nativity scenes are also very important in the country of Malta. Maltese people first built them in the 17th century. An organisation called the ‘Friends of the Crib’ was formed in Malta in 1986. It has over 500 members. In the weeks before Christmas the Friends organise a show of about 100 nativity scenes. They are in all shapes and sizes. Some even contain mechanical figures that move.

Voice 2  

In some countries the figures in nativity scenes move for a different reason. They move because they are alive! They are part of living nativity scenes. In Spain many towns create these living nativity scenes. Local people dress up as people from the story of Jesus’ birth. They act different parts of the story. The main nativity scene is always the birth of the baby Jesus.

Voice 1  

Living nativity scenes are also popular in Italy. In both countries some living nativity scenes are simple and basic. In other towns living nativity scenes are larger. Several hundred people may take part. They perform as characters from the story and people who lived in the town. And the performances can take place in the streets. Many people enjoy visiting these living nativity scenes.

Voice 2  

Some of these living nativity scenes are even famous. Over 100,000 people visit the island of Gozo in the weeks around Christmas. They come to this small island off Malta to experience a very special living nativity. Franco Ciangura is the mayor of the village of Ghajnsielem. He told the Guardian about the long tradition of building nativity scenes on the island.

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For generations, making nativity scenes has been a big thing at Christmas. Every home in Gozo has one. Sometimes they take up a whole room in the house. Families start making them in early December.’

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But in 2008 Mayor Ciangura and the people of his village did something amazing. And they have done it every year since then. They created a life-size nativity scene. But they also created more. They created a whole village. They made a model of the village of Bethlehem from 2000 years ago. They built the ‘Bethelehem’ village on fields near their own village. It covers a large area of over 20,000 square metres.

A living nativity scene
Nativity scene, birth of Jesus” (CC BY 2.0) by wuestenigel
Voice 2  

This ‘Bethlehem’ village looks very natural. People perform real jobs. A real baker and his wife make bread. A real carpenter works with wood. He is happy to talk to visitors about his work as he uses tools such as a lathe. This ‘Bethlehem’ also has a market that sells fresh fruit, vegetables and fish. And people can meet friends and eat and drink at the village inn. It looks like any normal village would from 2000 years ago. Mayor Ciangura told the Guardian newspaper why the village is like this,

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‘People have criticised me for making it too ordinary or normal, but this is how it really was. It was just an ordinary village. And in a stable a baby was born. And few people noticed. Just like here, life was going on as normal all around.’

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Both local people and visitors enjoy the ‘Bethlehem’ village experience. Some people even stay in the village overnight. The story of Jesus’ birth says that 2000 years ago Mary and Joseph stayed in a stable. That is because there was no room for them anywhere else. But there is room for visitors today.

Voice 2  

And just like in Bethlehem 2000 years ago a baby is in a stable. In fact, more than one newborn baby plays the part of the baby Jesus. When Jesus was born, no one knew who he was – except the people represented in the nativity scene. He was just another baby. But in this living nativity Bethlehem everyone notices the baby. They know he is the reason people are celebrating. The baby born 2000 years ago is the reason for the celebration of Christmas.

Voice 1  

Have you ever seen a Christmas nativity scene? Do you make a nativity scene in your home or your community? Tell us about it. You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at You can also comment on Facebook at

Voice 2  

The writer of this programme was Katy Blake. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for the programme and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this programme again, and read it, on the internet at This programme is called ‘Making Nativity Scenes.’

Voice 1  

You can watch Spotlight’s own nativity scene being built. Just look for ‘Christmas Nativity’ on our YouTube channel. Visit our website to download our free official app for Android and Apple devices. From all of us at Spotlight, Merry Christmas!


Have you ever seen a live nativity scene? Do you build a nativity scene in your home?

Watch Liz Set up a Nativity Scene:

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Join the discussion

  • jesus is a servant of God not his son . god is the lord of the whole world .How can he take a son and he dosen’t have a wife. He is the creator . so , this not truth. you know, if you say at god this you abuse your self. and god angry to those people who pretend at him . if you don’t believe me you can meditate this God’s statement ( god is alone, He neither pegets nor is born.

  • December is a magical month especially in the snow-covered villages, where everything seems fairytale and the days before Christmas, with the nativity scene, the Christmas tree, the Christmas music, are the best childhood memories that accompany us throughout the life. Christmas is the joy of children and adults who become children again. Thanks Spotlight

  • I only saw Christmas trees and voice of the bell in churche, so it is the first time to know about nativity scenes, I’m muslim and I would to say Merry Christmas ..

  • I have nerver made a nativity scene, but, I have already seen it in my life. The first time I see it when I watched a film of America. This is the “Home Alone” film. The actor walk into a nativity scene. I see it very warm, and beautiful.

  • I am never seen that or listened about this culture. I think it is very special. I like this village who people created it for this event l want to visit that.

  • I ever never make Nativity Scenes. But, where I live there are many Christians, and Christmas is a very special day for them. Nativity Scenes are made everywhere, everything is beautifully decorated.

  • Frankly, i enjoyed it
    No, we never ever did it, due to lack of celebration this event in my country
    We don’t basicly believe in those thoughts and the distortion of story about jesus’s birth, in fact, in islam we believe that jesus is God’s prophet “peace be upon to him” , God sent to israel in order to turn and guide them out from the darkness to light , praise be to allah for the grace of islam.

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