Nothing brings the reason for the season to mind like a live nativity scene. With wise men, shepherds and animals watching over Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, a live nativity scene reminds us all what Christmas is about. Organizing one can be a challenge, but here are some tips to help you get started.

Start with a vision of what you want your nativity scene to look like. Will you have a simple scene with basic characters, or expand to the whole Christmas story with many actors? The answer to this question will determine everything from your budget to the preparation time.

But whether you want a small, intimate setting or a more elaborate one, you’re going to need actors, costumes, sets and scripts. So pray for a good group of volunteers! Your volunteer pool will determine how many characters you can include. You must have the Holy Family, but if you don’t have enough volunteers for the Three Wise Men, angels and a lot of shepherds, you’ll need to decide which ones you really want to include. Live animals are great, but require planning. Statues or wooden cut-outs can substitute for real animals, and they don’t require food or water!

If your church or community theater has a costume closet, search there first. Otherwise, you may need to allot time to create costumes. Fortunately, these costumes are basically one-size-fits-almost-all, making an easy sewing project. They also hide layers of clothing, protecting actors from the cold.

Sets should be constructed with scenes and landscape in mind. Take advantage of trees, rocks and hills already on the site you’re using. If you don’t have time or talent to build a stable, you may be able to turn a pre-made shed into one. Start looking well in advance for members of your congregation who have construction skills or have a small shed they could loan for the effort.

You’ll also want a script for your live nativity scene so the characters aren’t just standing silent all night. You may want one of the shepherds or angels to be a narrator, or you can give each character their own lines to say. Make sure you decide on a script well before the final event so everyone has time to practice.

With a little effort and advance planning, you’ll have a live nativity scene that the whole community can enjoy!