For several years our hallway antique sideboard has been a place to display our Christmas decorations specifically for the children. When they were small we decorated differently because when small hands can't reach they are unaware of the wonders it holds. Once the little ones are able to reach the surface the decorations become child friendly. This saves my mental energy in no longer needing to worry about glass things being broken. Having an area where the kids can redecorate every day has been a fun way of celebrating Christmas. We let them choose which nutcrackers from their collections to set up. Often those change daily as the favorites tend to be taken for play, being stuffed in a suitcase and hauled off to another room. As far as other decorating pieces it varies each year. The one thing I do make an effort to ensure is that there are a few child friendly Nativity sets available in this space.
A Nativity set displayed in the home is another way to keep Jesus the focus during Advent. Many homes traditionally have one Nativity set displayed that is often for looking not touching. When I recall my childhood visits to my Granny’s house or my Great Aunts’ house during Christmas what I remember about the nativity sets was they were not for interaction. The beautiful nativity sets just called me to them I longed to touch the delicate figurines, to hold the sweet little baby Jesus, to pretend the sheep were grazing in the fields. My child driven interest was to BE in the MOMENT with Jesus. I wanted to participate in the joy of Christmas through play. Because I was not able to play with the nativity sets I had to settle for looking at them as close as I could without touching. It’s funny how all these years later I still remember being scolded for testing the limits of what was too close to those family heirloom nativity sets.
What we have learned is that our children are naturally drawn to the Nativity set just as we were as children. Children want to interact with it. They long to be near sweet baby Jesus to play out the Nativity story with their own hands. Rather than worry a family heirloom could be broken by little hands we have chosen to make a Nativity set available for our children to explore. In our home we have several types of Nativity sets displayed. Many are for looking and others are for touching. By enabling certain sets to be child friendly our children have become more connected to the Advent season. As our children have aged we have given them more liberties with some of our Nativity sets. We began a new tradition of having our older children have the honor to set up our family heirloom nativity scene. Once it was Mom who would talk about the many ways each of the figures can teach us about waiting for Jesus, following Jesus, or receiving Jesus, now it is the older sibling’s special role. As the younger ones watch on knowing that their turn in the tradition will soon come to be the child who sets up the family nativity set telling the story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.
I want to share with you two of our more recent additions to our children’s nativity set collections. At a craft fair I came across a peg doll Nativity, painted by a mother from Colorado. It is such a sweet little set that has been a welcome addition. We often find one or more of the pieces have been traveling around our home.The second is a wooden cut-out set we found at the local craft store. This set was meant to be painted but we have decided that leaving it unpainted has been a better fit for our children’s imagination. The children have the freedom to put these sets up on their own on the foyer sideboard. This is where the nativity sets mostly remain in some variation. Pieces may get mixed between the sets but overall they remain here. Other decorations, such as the Star of Bethlehem (the yellow glittered star made by our 10 year old during her second grade CCD year), are often added to embellish the scenes. What is important to us is that our children are using the freedom of play to grow their Catholic faith. What we love beyond all our hopes is that they have been frequent visitors to this spot in our hallway. Maybe just 5 minutes or maybe an hour, no matter the length of time, the children are there talking to Jesus as they too imagine themselves being transported to that night in Bethlehem