The family on the left was my little brother's gift to my oldest son when his brother was born (it has him, the baby--that I will use for baby Jesus-- mamá, papa, and Teddy the dog). I added some birds later on and hope to continue enlarging their collection.
I wanted a Nativity that was simple and sturdy, yet special. A scene that they could play with and that we can add to as years go by. So far it's perfect for us, the boys love to pull up a couple of chairs and play with the figures; often they will bring food for everybody to have a picnic, other times I hear them visiting the doctor or taking a train ride... it makes me happy and it brings fond memories of my own "Nativity play".
Nativities are a big deal in Spain, they are whole scenes that usually include the village of Bethlehem, mountains, a river with people washing clothes, shepherds with their flocks... you name it. My mom and my grandmother set up theirs on large tables that they covered with fabric down to the floor; they had cork-tree bark mountains, a foil river, moss for grass and tons of little figures that delighted us. My favorites where the women doing laundry in the river and the three Wise Men traveling on their camels.
Each day of Advent we would bring the camels a little closer to the manger, until they made it there on the night of January 5th, the magical last night of Christmas. That night we would leave out champagne and snacks for the Wise Men and their helpers; water for the camels and we would also leave a shoe out for them to know where to put our presents. Of course the Magi are next on my list, maybe with a little help from my family we will have them on next year's Nativity.
We leave the manger itself empty until midnight on the night of the 24th... When we are in Spain a bell rings somewhere in the house to announce that Baby Jesus has arrived for all to rejoice; then we all go to see the Nativity and find that He brought some gifts with him (my mom and my grandmother borrowed this German custom when we were little so we had quiet time to play with new toys during the school break, and it comes in handy now that we have to be back in the States before the 1st of January, thus missing Epiphany day).
It is important to me that Christmas is not a consumer festival devoid of meaning for them, setting up a Nativity scene is a way to teach them about the story and the meaning behind the holiday; and also an important connection with my own Spanish traditions and culture.