How To Set Up a Manger Scene [Steps and Tips]

The Christmas season is a time of joy, celebration, and meaningful traditions.

One such tradition that holds a special place in many hearts is the setting up of a biblical manger scene, also known as a Nativity scene.

This iconic display serves not only as a festive decoration but also as a poignant reminder of the true meaning of Christmas—the birth of Jesus Christ.

In the following article, we’ll walk you through the steps to set up your own biblical manger scene, from choosing the right location to arranging the figures and adding the finishing touches.

Christmas manger
How do you set up the animals? See below

Step-by-Step Guide to Setting Up the Scene

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you create a meaningful and visually appealing Nativity display.

Preparing the Area

Clean and Clear the Space: Make sure the area is clean and free of clutter. If you’re setting up outdoors, ensure the ground is level.

Lay Down a Base: For indoor displays, consider laying down a cloth or mat to define the area. For outdoor setups, a wooden or stone base can provide stability.

Arranging the Figures

Start with the Manger: Place the manger or stable structure at the center of your display area. This serves as the focal point around which all other figures will be arranged.

Add Mary and Joseph: Position Mary and Joseph on either side of the manger, creating a sense of anticipation for the arrival of Baby Jesus.

Place the Shepherds: Situate the shepherds to one side, often with staffs in hand, as if they’ve just arrived to witness the birth.

Introduce the Wise Men: Place the Wise Men on the opposite side from the shepherds, usually holding their gifts.

Incorporate the Angels: Angels can be positioned above the manger or at the sides, symbolizing the heavenly announcement of Jesus’ birth.

Add Animals: Fill in the stable area with animals like sheep, cows, and donkeys to complete the setting.

Setting Up the Manger

Position Baby Jesus: The Baby Jesus figure is usually added last, placed carefully in the manger to complete the scene.

Add Hay or Straw: If you have hay or straw, place some in the manger and around the stable for added realism.

Adding Finishing Touches

Install the Star of Bethlehem: If your set includes a Star of Bethlehem, position it above the stable.

Consider Lighting: Add small lights or candles to illuminate the scene, taking care to place them safely away from flammable materials.

Optional Decor: Feel free to add any additional elements like palm trees, rocks, or extra animals to enhance the scene.

What materials are often used in manger scenes? See below

Materials Needed

Setting up a Biblical manger scene requires a few essential components to accurately depict the story of Jesus’ birth.

While the complexity of your Nativity scene can vary based on personal preferences and available space, here is a list of the basic elements you’ll need to create a traditional display:


  • Mary: The mother of Jesus, usually depicted kneeling or sitting beside the manger.
  • Joseph: Mary’s husband, often shown standing or kneeling beside her.
  • Baby Jesus: The central figure, placed in the manger.
  • Shepherds: Representing the first witnesses of Jesus’ birth, usually holding staffs.
  • Wise Men: Also known as the Magi, often carrying gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
  • Angels: Heavenly messengers, sometimes holding banners with messages like “Glory to God in the highest.”
  • Animals: Commonly sheep, cows, and donkeys, to fill out the stable setting.

The Manger or Stable

  • A structure that serves as the backdrop for the figures, symbolizing the stable where Jesus was born.
  • The manger itself, which is the feeding trough where Baby Jesus is laid.

Additional Props

  • Star of Bethlehem: To be placed above the stable, symbolizing the divine guidance that led the Wise Men to Jesus.
  • Hay or Straw: To add realism to the manger and stable.
  • Optional Decor: Small items like palm trees, rocks, or additional animals can add depth to your scene.
Where should you put the manger? See below

Choosing the Right Location

Selecting the ideal location for your Biblical manger scene is a crucial step in the setup process.

The right spot not only enhances the visual appeal but also maximizes the impact of the Nativity display.

Here are some factors to consider when choosing a location:

Indoors vs. Outdoors

  • Indoors: Setting up the Nativity scene inside your home allows for more delicate materials and intricate details. Common indoor locations include living rooms, entryways, and mantels.
  • Outdoors: An outdoor display can be larger and more visible to the community but will require weather-resistant materials.


  • High Traffic Areas: Placing the manger scene in an area where it will be frequently seen can serve as a constant reminder of the season’s significance.
  • Community Sharing: If you’re looking to share the message of Christmas with neighbors or passersby, consider a location that is easily visible from the street.

Safety Considerations

  • Stability: Make sure the location you choose has a flat surface to prevent figures from tipping over.
  • Weather: If outdoors, consider how wind, rain, or snow may affect your display.
  • Accessibility: Ensure the scene is set up in a way that it can’t be easily tampered with or pose a tripping hazard.

Aesthetic Factors

  • Backdrop: Consider the background against which your Nativity scene will be set. A simple or neutral backdrop usually works best to let the figures stand out.
  • Lighting: Think about how the area is lit, especially if your display will be viewed in the evening. Soft, warm lighting can add a magical touch.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Setting up a Biblical manger scene can be a rewarding experience, but it’s easy to make a few common mistakes that can detract from its impact or authenticity.

Here are some pitfalls to watch out for and tips on how to avoid them:

Overcrowding the Scene

  • Mistake: Adding too many elements or figures, making the scene look cluttered.
  • Solution: Stick to essential figures and elements that contribute to the story. Remember, simplicity often adds to the scene’s authenticity and focus.

Incorrect Placement of Figures

  • Mistake: Placing figures in positions that don’t align with the Biblical narrative, such as adding the Wise Men next to the shepherds.
  • Solution: Familiarize yourself with the Christmas story to ensure accurate placement. Typically, the Wise Men are positioned at a distance, symbolizing their journey to see the newborn King.

Ignoring Safety Precautions

  • Mistake: Using real candles or flammable materials without considering safety.
  • Solution: If you’re using candles or lights, make sure they are placed safely away from flammable materials. Battery-operated candles are a safer alternative.

Neglecting the Focal Point

  • Mistake: Allowing other elements to overshadow the manger, which should be the focal point.
  • Solution: Make sure the manger and Baby Jesus are centrally located and given prominence in your arrangement.

Using Inappropriate Materials

  • Mistake: Using materials that are not weather-resistant for outdoor displays, leading to wear and tear.
  • Solution: Choose durable, weather-resistant materials for outdoor setups. For indoor displays, more delicate materials are usually fine.

Overlooking the Backdrop

  • Mistake: Setting up the Nativity scene against a busy or distracting backdrop.
  • Solution: Choose a simple or neutral backdrop that allows the figures to stand out and capture attention.

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see his About page for details.

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