How to Make Christmas Nativity Scenes Out of Paper

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Setting up your own nativity scene is a cherished Christmas tradition in many homes. It's a way of honoring the original Christmas story and celebrating the birth of baby Jesus, and it can double as a fun and meaningful craft project. Creating the figures out of paper is a super easy way for even young kids to get involved with Christmas crafts and learn about the nativity story.

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Some people and churches set up outdoor nativity scenes with figures that are nearly life-size, while indoor nativity sets can be small enough to fit on a side table or mantel. One of the nice things about creating a paper nativity scene (other than the fact that it's basically free) is the ability to customize the sizes of the figures to perfectly fit your display space. You can also customize the paper figures with crayons and other art supplies if you wish.

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If you have artistic talent, go ahead and draw the key figures out by hand. Otherwise, the easiest way to create your own paper nativity scene is by using printable templates.

Things You'll Need

  • Printable templates

  • Printer

  • Card stock

  • Scissors

  • Glue stick or other glue

  • Popsicle sticks (optional)

How to make a DIY Nativity Scene From Paper:

1. Choose a template

There are a ton of sites that provide downloadable, free printable nativity scene templates in different styles. Some offer colored nativity figures with faces and clothing that are cute for a kids' nativity scene, while other printable nativity set templates have silhouettes of figures that are meant to be printed on white or black paper. The choice is entirely up to you.

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Who and what belongs in a nativity scene?

There are many ways for nativity scenes to be created. Some people have heirloom sets with wood-carved or painted ceramic figures, while others use abstract pieces to represent the characters in the nativity story. Some people even use origami nativity scenes! But no matter the style used, nativity scenes generally include these nativity characters:

  • Baby Jesus lying in a manger
  • Mary
  • Joseph
  • A shepherd
  • An angel
  • Three wise men
  • A few farm animals (typically a sheep, ox and donkey)

2. Print and cut out the figures

Whichever template you choose, use card stock or any kind of stiff paper to print the images. If you use regular computer paper, you'll have to glue something to the back of each figure to give it structure and keep the edges from curling. You might also need to experiment with your printer settings to shrink or expand the size of the images in the template you chose, depending on how large you want your nativity scene to be.

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Cut out all the figures. Keep the scissors just inside the guide line so no lines show on your finished figures. (If you want to create an all-black nativity scene, print figures on regular computer paper and use them as stencils to cut out black card stock.)

3. Glue a stand to each figure

There are several ways you might give your paper figures enough stability to stand up. Here's an overview of a few options.

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  • Make stands from strips out of card stock. Cut pieces that are several inches long and slightly narrower than the figures. Fold each strip to create a 90-degree angle. Glue one half of the bent strip to the bottom of each figure, so the other half of the strip sits flat on the table.
  • Buy paper figure stands or small, clear game card stands.
  • Try a classic, kid-friendly "Sunday school" method: glue a toilet paper tube to the back of each figure.

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When was the first nativity scene created?

While you're setting up your Christmas nativity scene this year, you'll be participating in an 800-year-old tradition. St. Francis of Assisi gets credit for staging the first nativity scene in 1223, when he set up a manger with hay and animals in an Italian cave. According to his biographer, he preached about the "babe of Bethlehem" to townspeople who visited the cave.

4. Set up the nativity scene

Typically a nativity scene uses some sort of structure to symbolize the stable where the Christmas story says Jesus was born, plus a small manger where the baby lays. You might be able to create a cardboard stable that works, or create a more abstract sort of stable roof shape from black card stock. A stable and manger can also be built out of popsicle sticks.

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To set up your nativity scene, place the manger in the center with Mary and Joseph by its side. Arrange the other characters around them however you like. Some families hold back the baby Jesus figure and only add it to the manger late on Christmas Eve or first-thing Christmas morning.

In terms of freebie DIY Christmas crafts that help you connect to the real origins of the holiday, you can't beat a paper nativity scene. And if you store the pieces in a cool, dry place and away from sunlight, you can reuse them for years to come!

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