“Patio Nativity” Christmas play for very small children
A fun, tongue-in-cheek piece (though very theologically sound!), requested by my friend Leigh when her children were tiny. The idea was that her friends with children of around the same age would bring them, dressed up, but there would be no need for rehearsal – they would be guided through it by a narrator. It would take place in their garden – hence the title – with their garden shed as the stable, and an upstairs window in the house for Gabriel to appear in, as heaven (operating a moveable star on a line the length of the garden, to lead the wise men).
We’ve since done it at my church a couple of times. It’s perfect if most of your children are very young and/or you don’t have time to rehearse. It would also work well for a nursery school or crèche, of course. And the fact there’s no rehearsal means visiting children can also join in.
Mary, Joseph and the wise men should be the oldest of the small children, with shepherds the next age group down, and toddlers and babies for the angels. The narrator is an adult, or possibly an older child, and Gabriel is an older child. Those characters are therefore the only ones with dialogue. The narrator can read their lines using a folder or clipboard, like a storyteller, and Gabriel’s part is short enough to learn.
It should be possible for everyone to watch the piece, rather than the performers being in place from the beginning. The narrator or Gabriel can easily usher them to position at the right time (though you may want to brief the parents of the angels beforehand about putting them on their shoulders and encouraging them to flap their arms. Parents can also help the children practice singing Away in a Manger beforehand if they want, but it’s not necessary).
There are no seats – this is a promenade performance, with the audience travelling around with the narrator to the different performance areas, which everyone really enjoys. There could be a space elsewhere for buggies and coats to be left, and welcomers could fetch seats individually for anyone needing one (because if you just put a few here and there the first arrivals will automatically take them – and if you leave chairs accessible/visible, people will help themselves!) If you have the kind of setup where you could have small platforms here and there for each playing area, people can also perch on those when the action is elsewhere.
The playing areas are spread around the room, at a good distance from each other, and have signs indicating where they are: Nazareth; Bethlehem; Fields near Bethlehem. The angels come from a far corner (maybe just outside the room, to give them chance to set themselves up so their appearance is a surprise). It works brilliantly if the wise men can be a long way away – up a corridor or in another room, so the narrator has to take the audience looking for them in a far country.
I’ve put in carols as we did them the last time, but of course you can customise it to your own musicians, singers or choir. For example, if you want something for the older children to do, they could sing some songs.
What you see in the script is just a guide – the narrator should feel free to improvise with the audience and characters. They can encourage the children to speak in character too (about how they feel, or what they are going to do next) if they seem happy to do so, but it works fine without that if they are too shy.