Christmas decorations outside are fun, but why not take it a step further this year and create something a little more organic and original than a porch full of colored lights?
You could consider staging a "live" nativity scene.
Depending upon the scope, this can be quite an undertaking, so collaborating with a church group or neighboring farm families might be in order.
Even if you try a scaled-back version on your own, here are a few things to consider:
Think about props
Just like a small-scale theater production, your live nativity scene will benefit from props and staging.
Ideally, you'll have at least a simple small structure with a roof to represent the nativity stable, but if an actual structure isn't an option, you can achieve a similar effect with something much less elaborate. This could be a simple wooden frame (think pergola), maybe with fabric sides, or you could forgo the structure entirely and opt for a strictly outdoor nativity scene.
You can easily convey the idea of a stable with rather minimal decor-straw or hay on the ground, a short section of wooden fencing, etc ... Small square bales left intact can be rustic seating or for use as tables; bales aren't historically accurate, of course, but worthwhile for the effect on the audience. Straw bales often work better than hay for these purposes, as they're tighter and more durable.
Your humans in the nativity scene will need some basic costumes that will work with winter weather gear (nobody will have fun if they're freezing.)
You'll also want something to represent the star, and of course-the all-important manger.
The New Testament texts aren't specific about the type of animals that were living in the stable, so that gives flexibility for animals you choose for your scene. Choose the most convenient and available to you.
The very mention of the word manger in the story could certainly imply cattle or horses, so those are always a good option. Donkeys were common livestock in ancient times, especially as inexpensive transpor-tation, so they would be a good choice too.
Camels were also very common (and possibly used by the visiting Magi), but you probably don't have any handy.
Alpacas and llamas are native to South America and so wouldn't have been found in 1st Century Bethlehem, but they are related to camels and look similar, so you can certainly include them and ask folks to use a bit of imagination (which they're doing anyway).
Sheep make a lot of sense as well, due to the visiting shepherds. From there, add whatever else you'd like to include!
If the various animals are sourced from different farms and volunteers, think safety first and be careful not to combine animals into spaces with others they aren't familiar with.
Also, only allow capable handlers to supervise the livestock, and be sure to keep non animal-savvy spectators at a safe distance. The same goes for any human participants-safety first. It's all supposed to be fun, so take care!
Remember-less is more! You can rely more heavily on props and costumes and less on live animals while still achieving the overall effect you're striving for.
A live nativity is a simple idea, but there's more to it than you might realize at first. There are a lot of aspects to even a basic live nativity scene, so ask for volunteers to help you plan, organize, host, and perform.
Do you need refreshments for spectators? Will the nativity scene be simply static (like a living version of a small decorative nativity set), or will the actors actually speak lines and create the story? If so, how many repeat performances? What if the weather is bad? There are a lot of contingencies to this, so planning ahead is key.
That said, this is an event that should be fun and inspirational, so keep the scope of the project realistic so that everyone-performers and audience-has a joyful time.