Interested in Outdoor Nativity Sets?

Look Into Hispanic Traditions To Get Some Ideas

Outdoor Nativity sets are part of Hispanic culture from the times missionaries came to convert the indigenous people of the New World to become Roman Catholic.

In Hispanic American countries Catholic faith is deeply engraved in our religious traditions, and from these religious practices come the usage of outdoor pesebres.

Outdoor nativity scenes are not new. They were used since the beginning of the representation of the nativity scenes because the Catholic church used them as a tool to convert souls into Catholicism.

The Catholic church created big outdoor nativity scenes made of human size figures for people to see and congregate around to pray.

The tradition of having an outdoor nativity set has not stopped. In many cities throughout Latin America you can find them, for example a small town in Boyacá Colombia called Cucaita, artisans from the community make an outdoor nativity with pieces that measure up to four meters height. They make the shepherds look like typical inhabitants of the region, giving the nativity a human touch.

Outdoor Nativity or Pesebre in Cucaita, Colombia

Outdoor Nativity or Pesebre in Cucaita, Colombia

At San Peter’s Square in Rome there is an outdoor nativity set that is built every year. The tradition started in 1982 with Pope Juan Pablo II. The figures are human size and include Mary, Joseph, one donkey, one ox, a manger and angels made by the Mexican artist Agustin Parra.

One of the most beautiful artisans fair happens on December in Cusco, Peru where they celebrate the Santuranticuy Festival. The festival attracts hundreds of artisans who come to offer every Christmast raditional carved nativities for indoors and outdoors, figures and images of saints.

Throughout Latin American countries, an outdoor nativity set is generally limited to the stable, donkey, ox, Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and the star of Bethlehem.

In some occasions the nativity scene includes the Three Wise Men, but the incredibly elaborate backgrounds of houses and villas many families in Spanish speaking countries create for the nativity is favored to indoor sets.

For many years families in the U.S. started placing outdoor nativity sets on their lawns to profess their Catholic faith and celebrate the birth of Jesus. For many this has been controversial, but many more outdoor nativity sets are in American lawns every Christmas. This is more prevalent in South Western U.S. where there are states that belonged to Spain and have a strong Hispanic population.

Elements of an Outdoors Nativity

The main elements are Mary the mother of Jesus, Joseph the father of Jesus, an ox, a donkey, a sheep, some shepherds, the manger that serves as the crib for baby Jesus, the stable where Jesus was born, the star of Bethlehem which guides the Three Wise Men and the shepherds to the baby, and the Three wise men Melchor, Gaspar and Baltazarlike we call then in Spanish.

Many people think the manger is the stable, but they are different because the manger is what serves as the crib. It is called el pajar in Spanish because is made of straw or paja. The Stable is the entire place where the three of them Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus stayed for the night when escaping from what is known as the killing of the innocents by king Herod. In Spanish it is called el establo.

Placing nativities outdoors is making outdoor nativity sets one of the most sought after items for the holiday season. Below I have a selection of some of Joseph’s Studio outdoor Nativity figures that can make your nativity outdoors a success.

Nativity for Children How to Choose One

nativity for children? People may ask…There is no need for one, they may argue. But as a mother I can share with you that my son derives great pleasure from setting up and playing with his own pesebre.

Why Is It Important to Have a Nativity for Children

Having a nativity for your children allows them to role play with it. They can take it to other places in the household, re-arrange it at any time, and simply play with it while knowing there is nothing to worry about because it is not going to break.

The most valuable aspect of having a nativity for your child is that it makes the process of explaining the nativity story easier.

I take our children’s nativity while asking my son to please set his pesebre. We play Hispanic Christmas music while I tell him the birth of Jesus as a story not as a religious lecture. He loves it!

Amongst many Hispanic traditions, one of the most important ones is to set up the nativity every year. This is a fun process for children because we set up the nativity not only with the pieces that come with it, but also with elements we find in nature to go with the nativity.

What are the natural elements we use in Hispanic culture to set up the pesebre? The main are moss, roots, stones or pebbles, pieces of bark, leaves, and straw.

We also create ponds with aluminum foil, and use extra animals from his toys. Some of my son’s nativities have ended up with dinosaurs! Yes…I know but he loves it and enjoys it.

How To Choose a Nativity for Children

Lets start from saying the nativity is for children to enjoy and use it. For display we can use our traditional nativity.

  • Look for three basic materials: Resin (which is a kind of plastic) and wood. I don’t prefer nativities that depict the characters like toys becuase it seems unnatural, and I like to keep it a bit traditional.
  • The size of the nativity figures should be appropriate for a child to hold, manipulate and feel. They love tactil experiences and a nativity for children can provide that.
  • Make sure the nativities don’t contain lead paint. I love wood and resin nativities made in the U.S. or that disclose in their sale information they are NOT made with lead paint.
  • Look for a nativity for children that comes with at least 5 pieces amongst them Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, some animals or the Three Wise Men. The more the merrier. Having more pieces allows children to create scenarios for them, helping creativity.

Here are my top choices for nativities for your little ones. I like them because they have all the requirements listed above for finding a good nativity for children. They also don’t break the piggy bank, and you can keep using them year after year!

Meaning of the Nativity Elements

Ready to explain to your child the elements of the nativity? Here they are in simple words in English and Spanish, so you can share with your children what each element signifies.

While placing the figures explain and tell the nativity story. Play Villancicos while setting up the nativity, many of them tell the story of the birth of Jesus which makes it fun for your children.

  • Manger – Choza : Represents humility.
  • Joseph – José: Is the man who inspires obedience and fortitude.
  • Mary – María: Represents fidelity, the love of God, and an understanding and gracious woman.
  • Baby Jesus – Niñ:o Jesús: Spiritual guide, the one who stays in your heart to give love to the world.
  • Ox – Buey: His mission was to give warmth with his breath to baby Jesus. Example to mankind, to maintain a warm heart and home.
  • Donkey – Burro: Reminds you to be humble.
  • The Angel – El ángel: Symbolizes kindness, love and mercy.
  • Three Wise Men – Los Tres Reyes Magos: Through their offerings gold, frankincense and myrrh they show Jesus’ kingship, divinity of Christ, and the bitterness Christ had to go through in suffering for our sins.
  • Shepherds – Pastores: Represent humility, service, help, and happiness.
  • Sheep – Ovejas: Signify obedience, docility, and inspire trust.
  • Star – Estrella: Signifies renovation, represents the light that never ends, and what helps us in the darkness to give us hope.

Christmas Nativity Sets

From early childhood we learn the meaning of the nativity and also enjoy displaying the pesebre, Belen, favela, comuna, natividad, posada, portal or nacimiento especially in Colombia where I am from.

History of the Nativity or Pesebre

In Hispanic America it all started in the XV and XVI centuries when the Franciscans and missionaries came to the new world determined to spread the Catholic faith.  Christmas nativity sets are popular and revered in Hispanic culture. The missionaries made Christmas nativity representations in public places in each Latin American town that was occupied by Spain and Portugal.

Outdoor nativity scenes were widespread, in many cases with life size figures representing the birth of Jesus.  The Catholic church promoted biblical representations of the Christmas nativity scenes in churches, plazas, and inside homes. People embraced the tradition making it stronger as the years passed.

The first one to make the Christmas nativity scene a tradition was San Francis of Assisi in the XIII century in Italy. The legend tells that on the year 1223 during a cold winter day San Francis was preaching, to escape from the cold he went to the Ermita de Greccio in Rieti. While St Francis was praying and reading the gospel of St. Luke he had the inspiration of reviving the mystery of the birth of Jesus.

St Francis went to build a house made with straw, placed a manger in the middle and brought a donkey and an ox. He invited a small group of folks to join him in reproducing the adoration of baby Jesus by the shepherds. This idea traveled throughout Italy, Spain and then to the rest of Catholic Europe to later come to America.

Setting Up The Nativity

For my family in Colombia this was a very important event that we started at the beginning of the Christmas season on December 7th. This is the day of the Immaculate Conception when we celebrate El Dia de las Velitas.

Throughout Latin America we normally have more than one nativity including a nativity for children. We start building the nativity sets at the start of the season and continue during the entire month.

In many countries throughout Latin America the tradition is that each day we can add something else to the Christmas nativity sets, and baby Jesus is not placed in the manger until December the 24th.

The main nativity can take a big space in the living room. In Colombia we place it where everybody can see it and where we can congregate to pray the Novena de Aguinaldos or Christmas Novena.

We try to use natural elements to build the nativity scenes. We use moss, tree branches, straw, etc. Children deeply enjoy gathering and placing elements to enhance el pesebre, and while they are doing it we play Hispanic Christmas music or villancicos.

Many artisans have a strong faith which serves as a fuel to keep carving and creating incredibly elaborate créches or nativities in Latin America. Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico and southwestern U.S. states are particularly prolific in the production of créches.

Types of Christmas Nativity Sets

Over the years Christmas nativity sets evolved and took more defined characteristics depending on the needs and tastes of the population. Here are some of the most representative.

Some small nativity sets are very convenient.

These sets below are all made in Latin America and are particularly representative of our regions, geography, physical characteristics and trade. They have real Sabor Latino, and bring to your Hispanic decor a touch of heritage.

Outdoor Nativity Set

Outdoor nativity sets are not new. They were very popular since the beginning of the representation of the nativity scenes because the Catholic church used them as a tool for spreading the faith. Many families place an outdoor nativity set in their fron lawns. Also churches and religious centers make big representations of the nativity, that serve in many cases as places to gather around for praying.

African Nativity Sets

African nativities are more common today. We are familiar with typical nativities portraying Anglo Saxon figures of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and two of the Three Wise Men, but today many families have mixed ethnicities or simply want to relate directly to the nativity story buy displaying an African nativity.

African Americans and black Hispanics may find African nativities to be their top choice. Artists like Thomas Blackshear are gaining more audience based on their representation of traditional caucasian scenes like the nativity with African looking characters.

Many African nativities are made in Africa with materials found primarily in African countries like Cameroon, Tanzania, Kenya, and Huganda where they use Terracotta Clay to make them. These are called Nubian, and more difficult to find.

Other African nativity sets are made in South Africa by weaving natural fibers. Black nativity scenes are becoming more common today, and more understandable so, knowing that we live in a society that encourages you to enjoy and preserve your heritage.

Nativity Sets for Children

In Hispanic culture, passing down our religious traditions is important, therefore since our children are small we involve them in the process of setting up the nativity. Teaching little ones our religious traditions while making it fun is essential for them to embrace Latino culture. 

One of the best resources to do so is to use a nativity for children so they can manipulate and role play with the characters. Many people look for the Fisher Price nativity set for their children, I personally prefer nativity sets for children that give a more accurate representation of the time and that use materials like wood, resin, etc.

Christmas Nativity Sets from Latin America

Here are some Christmas nativity sets that you can add to your collection. They are beautifully made. I chose them because of their fine details. Regardless of which nativity you choose to represent your believes, it is important to remember this is the time of the year to reflect on our values, enjoy sharing with others and forgive. Also this is a perfect time to keep Hispanic traditions alive!