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Outdoor Nativity Sets

Outdoor nativity scenes are used during the Christmas season to celebrate the birth of Jesus for all to see. They are placed in front of private homes, churches, and religious institutions. Some are very life-like, some look like carved marble statues and some are lighted plastic or outlined frames with tiny white lights. The most amazing nativity scenes are when there are real people and animals. This is done in The Hague every year with camels and oxen and other animals. In some countries actors dressed as Joseph and Mary go from house to house asking for shelter and being told to move on. This ends in a designated outdoor tableau with animals, three kings and shepherds.


The origin of the outdoor nativity is from St. Francis of Assisi, in 1220, produces a live depiction of the nativity in a cave and conducted a mass there. He is credited with using a manger filled with straw and the word crèche came from this time. The usual characters represented are an infant Jesus, Mary, Joseph and angels with sheep, donkeys, the three kings from the east and shepherds. They are arranged in a barn or stable with a huge star overhead which is said to have led the wise kings to the baby.


The different styles available for outdoor nativity scenes are life-sized silhouettes cut from ply wood, hammered metal outlined with tiny lights, illuminated large photo computer printed, vinyl, to withstand the elements, translucent resin lighted from the inside as well as inflatable and Fontanini. Some sets have moveable parts where the angles wings move or the donkey’s head. Any style you want can be ordered online or you can find instructions to make your own.


Fontanini outdoor nativity scenes originated in Tuscany, Italy and have been made by the same family for a hundred years. The process is very meticulous and begins with a drawing by a member of the Fontanini family. This drawing is made into a life-size model from beeswax, then, when it gets final approval, it is made into a mold to be kept for reproduction.  They use a polymer that is very strong so the figures can be placed outside.  The figures are hand painted by artisans, except for the eyes, which are painted by a specialist group of artisans to get a real-life appearance. These nativity scenes and single figures are considered the best in the world.


There has been controversy about outdoor nativity sets. Some feel they should not be placed in public buildings because they represent only the Christian religion and the US has many different religions represented by its citizens. Usually the nativity is placed in churches, private homes and religious institutions where Christians gather. Sometimes as a prank or protest the baby Jesus is stolen from outside nativity scenes. Now the manger is available with the infant figure attached. For Christians in Christian buildings and homes the nativity represents the true meaning of Christmas and is displayed to help remind everyone of peace on earth.

This article was published on Thursday 19 November, 2009.

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