Once the peg and pipe cleaner nativity figures were made, Little Chick was really keen to play with them so I set about making her a small world play nativity scene using one of our favourite things - Amazon cardboard boxes and packaging!
Everything is made from cardboard and secured with parcel tape - even the manger! You might note that it looks a bit more like a house than a farm outbuilding. So if you're interested in reading why it's quite possible that Jesus was born in a typical middle eastern peasant home, rather than a stable I've written a bit at the bottom about this. If that's not your thing just enjoy the creativity you can have with cardboard boxes!
There's a lower part of the house where the animals live, I added some wood shavings and some of our farmyard animals to this area. Then the main living room is up a few steps where Mary and Joseph, their new arrival and the guests are and finally off the main living area is the guest room or guest bedroom.
Little Chick has really enjoyed playing with this, first all the people had to arrive. To be honest she was a bit disappointed that the house didn't have a door but I said she had to just pretend (the figures are too tall for the box I used to cut a door in the side).
Once all the people had arrived she said it was time to put Jesus to bed in the bedroom, she said Mary and Joseph could go in there too but only if they were very quiet - made me chuckle!
Then everyone needed to go to bed but it was a bit of a squash and a squeeze! And so the stories continued, it was lovely watching her play and retelling the story and adding bits and pieces here and there.
So why a house and not a stable?
As a Christian family we would love our girls to learn all about the significance of Jesus' birth as part of Christmas preparations and celebrations, but it seems all so often that this wonderful story is so removed from the culture and reality of the time in which it was set that it is told a bit like a fairy story. I was really struck reading a middle eastern scholar's take on the Christmas story recently, that it got me thinking about how we retell the story to our daughters as they grow up.
Perhaps with the traditional retelling of the story year on year we lose our ability to question our preconceptions of what is actually going on in the story. Was there really no place to stay other than a stable, when Joseph was returning to the village of his origin, with many extended family there, in a culture where family origins and lineage were very important and honoured with open hospitality? Was it really only Joseph and a few animals that assisted Mary in her delivery of the baby with the Jewish community refusing to help a young Jewish mother give birth? Mary also had relatives nearby (a few months previous she had visited Elizabeth in her home in the hill country of Judea, only a couple of miles out of Bethlehem). If Bethlehem really was full, would they not have turned and carried on a couple of miles to stay there?
So what about the inn, the manger and the stable?
From our western perspective, the word inn means a commerical place to stay, an hotel, pub with rooms, a b&b, a taverna, however the Greek word in Luke 2:7 that is commonly translated as inn is katalyma, not the ordinary word for a commercial inn. The word literally means 'place to stay' and can refer to the guest room in someone's home. Luke uses the word again in Chapter 22 talking about the upper room/guest room that the disciples will use for the last supper. So it is possible then that Mary and Joseph were staying in a private home, but that the guest room was already full. The word manger gives us a clue as to where they were staying.
At the time of Jesus' birth it was common place in village households to have a few animals. These animals would spend the day outside in the yard but at night you brought them into the house to protect them from theft and provide heat in the winter. So a typical Palestine village home would have a a main living/family room then off one end or upstairs would be the guest room and then down a few steps at the other end of the house would be a stable area for the animals. The manager would either be a wooden trough or a sunken area of the floor of the main living room next to the stable area. So the animals could come and feed in the night if they were hungry. So it is likely that Mary and Joseph stayed in the main family living room and baby Jesus was put to sleep either in the manager in the floor or a wooden trough manger that was moved up from the stable to the living room.
So you might think that these differences are not of huge significance, he's still born in Bethlehem, still visited by shepherds and wise men, so what is the significance? Perhaps it is this, that the story of Jesus birth is enriched with a plausible reality that celebrates humanity, humility and community hospitality at it's best. Jesus' birth was not in a cold and lonely stable, but the manger was in a warm and friendly peasant home, nothing fancy, but surrounded by family and members of the local Jewish Community.
So that's where our thoughts for a nativity home scene came from. I don't mind our girls learning and re-enacting the traditional interpretation of the birth in the stable but I think it's nice to add ideas from other perspectives too that enrich our understanding of the Christmas story.