Translate Page

New ways to see the Nativity scene

Why are the animals different in some Nativity sets? Why do the Magi travel on camels or elephants?

Jeanne Honeycutt and volunteers maintain a Nativity museum with over 400 manger scenes for First United Methodist Church in Tullahoma, Tennessee. Jeanne has done extensive research on the history and origin of elements common and uncommonly seen in Nativity sets. She shared her knowledge for this video.

Here are some features to look for next time you see a manger scene.


(Locator: Tullahoma, Tennessee)

Nativity scenes are a common fixture in churches and homes during Advent. Variations in figures and styles in crèches have cultural and biblical meanings.

Scholars say the stable in the back of the inn was likely a cave, often depicted as a crude shed. The significance is that a king was born in meager surroundings.

The Christ Child’s outstretched arms are invitation to come to the Father through Him.

Animals are often seen hovering over Baby Jesus, as though to warm him with their breath.

Crèches from around the world often incorporate the animals native to a particular country, this scene from the Philippines includes pigs, a goat, and a carabao.

Wise Men, or Magi, are often depicted as one young, one middle aged, and one elderly relating to the three stages of life.

At times, the Magi are seen as one Asian, one African and one European, referring to the three known continents at the time.

Their pack animals vary too. You may see a horse from Europe, a camel from Asia and an elephant from Africa.

The inclusion of contemporary figures in native clothing, helps Christians of different cultures to personally relate to the events of the Holy Night.

Figures include shepherds to represent the common man.

At times, other occupations are added emphasizing that Christ came for people from all walks of life.

Take a closer look next time you see a Nativity set.  And reflect on the many ways that the greatest story ever told has been shared throughout history by Christians around the world.


Some people wait a week to add the wise men to their display to mark the time it would have taken for the Magi to travel to visit the Baby Jesus. Churches usually leave Nativity scenes on display until the Baptism of the Lord, which is celebrated a couple of weeks after Christmas.

For more information on the Nativity Museum, contact First United Methodist Church in Tullahoma, at 931-455-5434.

For more videos like this, visit our Advent and Christmas page.

This video was produced by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tennessee.

News media contact is Joe Iovino, [email protected].

This video was first published on Nov. 25, 2014.

United Methodist Communications is an agency of The United Methodist Church

©2023 United Methodist Communications. All Rights Reserved