There’s been a flurry of activity at our house, mostly due to the TOS Homeschool Crew. Several boxes have arrived, and we’re in the thick of checking out new ideas and curricula. You’ll be hearing our family’s impressions and experience over the next few months.
The Nativity Play Set
One of the first things to arrive was The Nativity, a play set from the Tales of Glory series available from one2believe.
We have several Nativity sets at our house; I bought my first one when our oldest daughter was very little. It’s an elegant, white porcelain set. The figures are realistic in shape, but the only color to the set is a couple of touches of gold on the Magi (a gold crown and a box of gold that one of them carries).
Memories in the Making
There’s a funny anecdote about that set. Our minister was walking up and down the church aisle as he gave his sermon, and he asked the church in general what they knew about Jesus. Our daughter (about three at the time) raised her hand eagerly, and he called on her. She confidently said, “Jesus is like a little tiny donut!” (Imagine our consternation. We’re thinking, “What do they imagine we teach her about the Bible at home?”)
He laughed and turned it into a joke, saying something semi-profound like, “Some people even see our Lord Jesus in a humble donut.” Perhaps he thought she was referring to the Donut Man.
Some weeks later I was putting away the Nativity set and turning over the figure of baby Jesus in the manger, I saw that the porcelain figure was hollow inside, and the bottom formed a donut-shaped rim. In her careful fingering of the Nativity set as we’d arranged it the first Sunday in Advent, she’d evidently examined the figures more carefully than I had!
Nowadays our lovely porcelain donkey is missing one ear, and the tips of the angel’s wings are broken, for the set is made more to be looked at than handled. Children are drawn to handle the figures–which is why an unbreakable Nativity set can be such a boon.
When I was little, my parent had a wooden Nativity set. Every Christmas, we children played out the Bible stories with that set. Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem with the donkey. Shepherds perched on high places, watching their flocks. An angel announced the Good News to them, and they went to the stable, bringing the littlest lamb along. Meanwhile, Magi were making their way through the long living room to the stable, to find the Holy Child and give Him their gifts. (I’m sad to say that the set disappeared between the time I left for college and several years later, when we helped Dad go through the storage areas in the house after Mom’s death, or we’d still be using it.)
I wanted to do the same with our own children, but I needed a sturdier Nativity than our lovely porcelain set, where I wouldn’t be wincing every time a child moved to pick up a figure! I’ve bought a couple of sets over the years, one a heavy-duty (but still breakable) set, another made of snap-together plastic figures from Playmobil. The sets have had a lot of use over the past few years.
The Nativity from one2believe is well-suited this sort of interacting with the story. There are seventeen pieces in the set, including a stable, two angels, a donkey, a camel, Mary, Joseph, a manger, a bale of hay, a baby Jesus, two shepherds, three Wise Men, and two sheep. The figures are about 2.5 to 3 inches in height.
A small story pamphlet is included for your convenience, in English, Spanish, and French (though we probably won’t use it; our children are used to reading the Nativity story from the gospels of Luke and Matthew).
The colorful figures are made of heavy-duty PVC plastic. They’re sturdy. I’ve stepped on one (by accident) and managed not to break it. However, the box warns that this toy is not for children under age 3. (There are small parts, and PVC is problematic if chewed or mouthed.)
There’s a lot of room for imaginative play here, not just setting up the figures in and around the stable. You may find yourself listening in to all sorts of conversations between the characters, from the angel announcing to Mary that she is to bear a son, to another angel (or maybe the same one) telling Joseph to change his plans, to both angels together (there are two in the set) announcing to the shepherds the joyful Good News. The angels may even wonder together about the unfolding mystery, just like it says in the Bible and several hymns we know. Mary and Joseph can discuss details of the journey and housekeeping… why, there seems to be no end to the various aspects of the Nativity story!
Pro/Con: (depending on your preferences)
Our 12yo finds the figures “too babyish.” This does not preclude her from playing with them, however. Her sisters think the set is “charming” and have spent a lot of time the last few days arranging and rearranging the figures, even playing out scenes and conversations between characters.
The figures are cartoonish in style. Almost every one wears a wide-eyed expression of astonishment. They are designed to be appealing to small children. If you object to cartoonish Bible characters, you might want to look into a more realistic Nativity set. The figures are not in proportion to each other–youngest was both laughing and disappointed that the donkey was much too small to carry Mary, for example. The Wise Men are very large in comparison to their camel, and the baby is huge, nearly as large as the adults. The shepherds are androgynous and can be taken either as girls or beardless boys.
If you were wondering about skin color, just about all the people are very light-skinned. I think one of the shepherds is a little darker than everyone else in the set. Hair color ranges from blond to brown. I didn’t see any alternatives at the website.
A Final Thought
I like that the baby and manger are separate pieces. We have a custom of setting up the Nativity scene some weeks before Christmas, with the manger empty. We put the baby in place on Christmas eve. Most years the girls still play out the Story, starting with the Magi in the far eastern corner of the house, setting up the stable on the hearth with the shepherds in the “hills” on the mantel above, and Mary and Joseph traveling from the kitchen to the living room in stages, arriving on Christmas eve sometime during the day.