Live Nativity Ideas and Resources
The Advent Trail described above creates devotional signposts/stations to walk between. The stations have scriptures and contemplative activities. The Trail can be walked at any time and changed during the season.
A "Live Nativity" tends to be more of a "single scheduled event" --an evening or two for a limited number of hours. It poses one or more "scenes" from the Christmas story that participants typically only walk or drive past. Live Nativity scenes take less space than a "trail" but are also limited to the number of hours and days which actors are able to stand outside, weather permitting. Live Nativities are often combined with fellowship/refreshment events which may or may not be possible in 2020.
Both have their pros and cons. It is also possible to combine elements of both! (See the suggestions above.)
Live Nativity in 2020
THIS year's nativity actors will need to wear masks and spread out at an appropriate distance if they are not from the same family. On the plus side, this makes each "scene" in the nativity (if you have more than one scene) something that individual families can be recruited to "staff" and assemble. The more scenes and actors you have, the more word-of-mouth you'll get, too.
It's also possible that "staying at an appropriate distance" this year will force us to rethink how to stage the scene or scenes more "dynamically" rather than standing around looking like a Christmas card. For example, in the following live nativity photo, the Wisemen are pictured at the manger, which is scripturally incorrect (they came sometime after his birth and entered into a "house"), so why not show them on their journey in a separate scene?
An alternative to a "walk through" or "walk up" nativity is the drive-through nativity which churches in some areas have been doing for decades. Perhaps they were preparing the rest of us "for just such a time as this"?
Typically, drive-through nativities have more than one station, with the "main" station being the traditional manger scene. Each "station" can have live or recorded music. Words can be read aloud at each station, or the scene can simply be self-explanatory, or each car can be given a cd with prerecorded readings and music. A "traffic volunteer" can "hold" cars back at certain points to wait their turn to drive up and view the scene (so that you don't have bumper to bumper cars which can be dangerous if the driver isn't paying attention.) Here are two churches that have presented the Nativity Story this way for years: Cornerstone UMC in Newman, Georgia and Old Tennant Presbyterian in Manalapan, New Jersey
It should be noted that THIS YEAR, our church members and members of the public are going to have a greater need to feel the Advent spirit, in part, due to the many traditional community and school activities that are being canceled or curtailed. This presents an opportunity for OUR "nativities" to step into the breach and do more teaching.
How can your "Live Nativity" be more than just a "Christmas card" to the community?
Here are some ideas:
- Make the "price of admission" a bag of groceries for the local food pantry or a toy drop off.
- Create a "Christmas sing-a-long" outdoor station so participants have the option to stop and sing a few familiar Christmas songs with your live singers. Arrange safe spaces for people to sing (singing being one of the "super-spreader" activities the CDC and church leaders are concerned about).
- Create a "photo station" for participants (especially kids) to step into to take photos of themselves next to a donkey and manger (with a doll in it). Have a live actor angel standing at a safe distance. If you have access to a sleigh and horse, make that an "Over the river and through the woods" photo station. (Such things encourage attendance and will help people feel celebratory in a difficult year.)
- Live "nativity" animals are a popular draw but can be pricey or difficult to arrange. An alternative is to assemble pets! (dogs, rabbits, parrots, a horse) Be sure to have a safe enclosure and encourage hand-washing.
- Display "QUESTIONS to PONDER" after each station that ask people to reflect on a scene and its meaning for their life.
- Have a COVID 2020 scene! Dress your angels and shepherds as doctors, nurses, police, teachers, firefighters, soldiers, etc. Have your Magi carrying gifts of a laptop, cellphone, and PPE. Or how about adding a scene this year of young people bringing "justice, kindness, and humility" to the Christ child (Micah 6:8, "What does the Lord require?"). You could dress your shepherds as waiters, waitresses, and cooks (what a year they've had ). These "edits" could bring good press and increased attendance while sending a great message in 2020. What other groups and symbols of 2020 could you incorporate to make people think of their blessings and gifts?
See the Outdoor Nativity Store (yes, one exists!) for a guide to organizing and setting up.
Please post your suggestions and photos by reply!