NATIVITY STORIES From Around New Zealand

A Christmas Nativity Story

Dave Mann

As part of Hope Project Christmas we love to share exciting stories from around Aotearoa, to inspire ideas and share the opportunity to intentionally keep nativity scenes familiar at Christmas.

The Village Church - Ngāruawāhia


With the focus on unity and returning Christ to Christmas, The Village Church, Ngāruawāhia shares an effective way to do this. After hearing of a similar initiative running in the UK, The Village Church started this in 2015 and has been running this every year since then with a Nativity photo booth in the town’s annual Christmas parade/market.

1. READY – Preparation Phase

We gathered costumes in all different sizes – shepherds, angels, wise men, Mary, Joseph – found an old curtain to use as a backdrop, and sourced some photogenic props for a bit more depth. Gifts for the wise men to hold, a shepherd’s staff, a manger, a doll swaddled in a white sheet. We are really blessed to know locals with donkeys which they were prepared to lend us for our set too, along with knowledgeable minders who could take care of them.

Once we had sourced everything we needed to make our photos look pretty, the next thing was to find someone with some decent photography equipment and the willingness to give up a morning to take our photos for us, enhance the digital images, and load them onto our church website. We booked our spot in the market place and we were all set.

2. AIM – Set-up Phase

The event organisers were fantastic and helped to ensure we had a perfect spot for the donkeys to feel safe and happy – an area with shade, grass and away from all the noise! We soon had a team of volunteers eager to be involved. We needed people to set up our dressing area (a gazebo with lots of hanging space and some mirrors) and to help people get dressed up. Others set up the photo booth, making sure the lighting was just right. Others had clipboards with paperwork for people to sign to say they were happy with their photos being uploaded onto the church website and with business cards to hand out with the church website address where they could find their photo later.

3. SHOOT (photoshoot) – Action

It was a huge success. We were amazed at how many people were wanting to pull into the booth to dress up. They couldn’t believe we were offering free professional quality family photos, with no strings attached. Not only was there a queue of families waiting for their turn to dress up and have their photo taken, but many others were standing by just watching. This gave us the chance to engage people in conversation about the Christmas story and pass on fliers about Christmas services happening at different churches in the area.


We’ve been asked back to the Christmas parade/market for five years now, and some families have come each year to have their family photos taken. It’s been great to see familiar faces and watch the children grow – the baby that posed as Jesus one year, might be a tiny shepherd the next. And it’s been a real privilege to ‘park’ a nativity scene right in the middle of our town and share the Christmas story. Over the years, we’ve added to our collection of costumes and we’ve even had a team paint us a backdrop we can use each year.


In 2019, we decided to get even more use out of our costumes, and a group of us braved the shopping mall, Te Awa, in Hamilton in nativity costumes, all playing our parts. We split up – Mary and Joseph went one way (asking people if they knew of a safe place Mary could have her baby), the wise men went another way (asking people if they’d seen the star or the Christ child) and the shepherds yet another. We stayed in character (mostly!) and we had a lot of laughs. Lots of people stopped to take photos. We handed out lollies to the children. What surprised us most was the number of young people who didn’t have the slightest idea who we were meant to be, or anything about the Christmas story. We decided that next time we did this, we’d go armed with Bible Society New Zealand tracts that tell the story of Christmas.

ACTION – Could this work in your city or town in your Christmas market?

For more ideas go to Hope Project Christmas

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