Some traditions are worth beginning. Especially those that inspire family time together. So, here are two different ideas for homemade nativity sets. One is for us grown ups and one is for the kiddos. Use simple, natural materials to craft these frugal nativity sets – perfect for gift-giving!
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Organic Nativity Sets
This post is meant to be more inspirational than instructional. Making your own nativity sets, or Crèches, out of natural materials is a simple way to bond yourself and your family to the sweet land you live in this holiday season. Let us share a few tips we learned while making our own organic Crèche. You’ll be able to make one yourself with confidence this Christmas season.
If you need something slightly more sturdy for the kiddos, no worries, we have instructions for that towards the end of the post.
By the way, you may want to look for other ways you can simplify your holiday. Switching out store bought gifts for homemade gifts is one way, but there are others. For example, try making this Activity Based Advent Calendar from some winter branches and cut scrap. She has 25 ideas here, but you could add your own – like playing with a nativity set!
The point is, slow down, simplify, play around with organic materials. Savor Christmas this year! For more ideas, Activity Based Advent Calendar
First, You Need Inspiration
We first got the idea to make our natural nativity when we were living in North Carolina during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. My husband and a large group of men from our church went down to the site of some of the destruction in Mississippi. They helped clear debris, and use their chainsaws on anything that was asking for it.
One lovely old home had lost the biggest cedar tree my husband had ever seen. DH came back to us with several circles of limb wood from that cedar and it became holy wood to us. It will forever be a reminder of how fragile life is and how little we control. It also helps us feel how grateful we are for our warm home, for each other and for safety.
That was the year we lost a baby to miscarriage, too. As Christmas approached, I kept shoving my nose into those rings of gorgeous cedar wood and finally knew what sacred, special thing I wanted to do with them.
Make Your Own Nativity Sets
So, my family and I started scouring our property for useable pinecones (not hard to come by in NC), interesting rocks, seed pods, bark and sticks. We got into my wool stash and opened up our shell collection box from various Atlantic Ocean trips we’d taken to Wrightsville, Ocracoke and Wilmington. We saw beauty and the connection of wonderful memories in everything we collected and lovingly handled. We decided to use it all.
Suggested Tools for Making Nativity Sets
We tried several different glues but the one that proved the most reliable was hot glue. Be careful if your kiddos are helping you make your own nativity sets because hot glue leaves scars. Ask me how I know.
We created small treasure chests of shells and dried berries with moss for the long-suffering Three Kings to leave the Baby. My husband used a twig and a random bit of shell to craft an ax. All the while we were imagining what it must have been like for Joseph as he worked so hard to provide the most basic protection that Holy Night. Dear Joseph.
A – Baby Jesus was crafted from a baby acorn and a baby pine cone. His manger is a shell with wood shavings and tiny shells. B – Mary was made to look like her head is bowed by simply hot gluing the acorn at an angle. C – Joseph was set apart with a royal purple, raw wool.
Lots of Natural Materials
I loved making the sheep, unceremoniously smashing raw wool over a pine cone to form the body. Acorns proved very useful for heads of both man and beast. You can also use loose acorn caps or shell bits to prop up uneven pine cone bottoms for your figures.
As the organic materials age, they’ll dry and shrink and even warp, so just be prepared to fidget with them a bit every year.
D – The angel took some wire to keep those shells on as sleeves but they were so perfect, it was worth the effort. E – The Sheep are just pine cones covered in fleece and their ears are single pine cone – uh, what do you call that part, the pokey part that covers the seed? They always fall off but I love them! F – My husband, the engineer, made this miniature ax.
Be Gentle With Natural Materials
Ideally, this sort of organic creation should be stored in a cool, dark place year round. We’re all subject to the second law of thermodynamics, after all.
I always forget and put my homemade nativity sets up with the rest of the Christmas stuff in the attic every year. Consequently, when I get it down to put out the nativity, I inevitably have to perform hot glue surgery on someone! It’s worth it to me to keep this natural nativity, though. Completely.
You’ll notice some of our more delicate items are truly falling apart. For example, this curved seashell my DH made into a lantern. If you turn it, the back is nearly gone.
Or the cracks in the cedar rings. Or the donkey who’s ears just won’t stay on. No big deal. All these things give our homemade Crèche it’s own personality which is, from year to year, changing as any family member’s would.
Make a Nativity Set Together
I encourage you to make your own nativity sets with your family or friends this year. It provides you with a creative project that can be crafted from items that are purposefully meaningful to you and laying around just waiting to be used. G – Each of the kings has his own gift and a few things that make them royal. This king’s medallion was created by gluing two shells together. H – We found these butterfly wings on a nature hike and studied them for school. It was a privilege to reuse them this way. I – I love this crown – all those tiny shells. J – Feathers were an obvious choice for one of the kings – they’re so dressy!
Alecia, from Chicken Scratch NY made this really lovely background board for her nativity – a really neat idea!
Though not centered on Christmas, for more seasonal living ideas, please check out my friend Kathie’s wonderful and inspirational resource below. I use it with my family with joy.
Let the Kids Make Their Own Nativity Sets
You may be worried about creating something fragile while you still have small children or grandchildren at home. If so, try making these felt nativity sets. They’d also make sweet gifts for Advent or St. Nicholas Day.
Basic Supplies for Homemade Kids Nativity
This is a very basic process that starts with cutting out various parts from felt. Think simple, simple, simple.
For the backing, I just got a piece of cardboard and glued on some felt. We used fabric paints to add detail on both the background and the people.
If I had to do it again, I would size my nativity set so it would fit into a gallon Ziploc bag for ease of storage. I made mine a tad too big and things fall out of the bag.
I used an ink pen and drew directly onto the felt, after which I cut out the shapes with a sharp pair of scissors. I used hot glue again – one of my very best crafting friends – to assemble everything.
If you need more ideas for shapes and techniques, I suggest a trip around Pinterest. Stay at Home Educator has a nice little post about making a felt nativity and she allows you access to her template.
Share with Others
We took this one year to a Crèche exhibit at church to put into the children’s room so that it could be touched and played with. I labeled it with our name and how many pieces and what they were so that we could collect them all again.
If you’re giving this as a gift, I suggest you do that so that parents aren’t trying to remember how many pieces they should be looking for. You know how that goes at Christmas! The current baby in our house always gets to play with it while we set out the more breakable items each year.
Simplicity that Heals
With our nature-crafted nativity, I’m uncharacteristically strict about me being the one to put it up every year. I don’t have many froo froo things left. I’m becoming more and more of a minimalist as I age, really. Normally, I just let the kids jump right in and lend a hand. But this nativity is an exception to that.
I love putting it out every year myself. I remember that long ago year of loss and life. Of resplendence and leanness and of love.
A very Happy Christmas to you and yours, in Him who loved us first.