Building the Nativity: A 7-day Christ-centered countdown to Christmas


Editor's note: This article was adapted from a video series called “Christ-Centered Christmas Celebration,” based on the book Celebrating a Christ-Centered Christmas. For more insight and family interaction with your countdown, you can watch the five-minute videos that correspond with each day, which can be found at "Keep Your Christmas Focused on Christ With These New Advent Videos by Emily Belle Freeman and David Butler."This article originally appeared in the November/December 2020issue of LDS Living magazine and features photos of a brand-new companion nativity set

Emily Belle Freeman: Many years ago, when my daughter Megan was between 3 and 4 years old, we were driving together in the car. There was a break between Christmas carols, and in the break, Megan said to me something I will never forget. She said, “Mom, I believe in Santa Claus and you believe in Jesus Christ.” And then the song started and immediately what I thought to myself is, “I have failed as a mother. I have ruined Christmas.” . . . And so I started thinking of ways that we could [learn more about Jesus] in our home. And I went home, I pulled out a nativity scene, and I set out the stable and I thought, “This is where it has to start, is with the story.”

David Butler: So for the seven days leading up to Christmas, we are studying each member of the Nativity, we’re learning about their story, and we’re giving a small invitation and tradition with each of them.

Day 1: Empty Stable


DB: When [Mary] was maybe nine months pregnant, they made the trek into Bethlehem to find that everybody else from the line of David was also there, so the city was packed full of people. There was a lot of busy-ness, there were a lot of crowds, and no inn had room for Mary and Joseph, which means no place had room for Jesus.

EBF: Maybe we can look at that night, that first Christmas night when Joseph and Mary went away to a tiny stable—a holy place, a sacred place where they could get away from everything. . . . Maybe we can make room for Jesus Christ in our celebrations this year. Maybe we can create sacred spaces and holy places as we celebrate a Christ-centered Christmas this year.

Invitation and Tradition Idea:

The invitation and tradition for day number one is to display an empty stable. And every time you pass by it, maybe you can think, “What can I do this week or what can I do today to make more room for Jesus in my Christmas celebrations?”

Day 2: Joseph


DB: [Personally,] as a husband and a father who has taken a very pregnant wife to the hospital before several times, I can relate to [Joseph’s] feeling of anxiety, especially on that first baby. And then to find out that there was no room, and then to be taken to a stable or to a cave for [Mary] to deliver this child that was not only their first child but also the Son of God, and what it must have been like for them to get that stable ready.

EBF: I love the stories that I have collected from secret acts of Christmas kindness that my kids and our family have participated in throughout the years. And every time I think about those stories, it just reminds me of Joseph and [what] we could have done [to share his burden].


EBF: Joseph represents the desires of our hearts. He reminds us of the secret acts of Christmas kindness given with sacrifice and love to the broken, the weary, the lost, and the lonely.

DB: So the invitation for Joseph is exactly what you hoped it would be. To perform a secret act of kindness. It can be anything . . . whatever it is, we hope that you will look for those people who are in need of a secret act of kindness and perform it.

Tradition Idea: Put a jingle bell in your pocket or on your wrist to remind yourself to look for people who need a little bit of kindness.

Day 3: Mary


EBF: Have you ever wondered what it was that Mary might have pondered? I think to myself that surely she did what all new mothers do . . . and just pulls that baby up into her and looks at every single thing about the miracle of a brand new baby.

DB: Could Mary ever have imagined what her life would be filled with being the mother and disciple of the Son of God? And years later, after all of these things had happened, do you think she looked back on that night in the stable and remembered some of those things that she pondered?

EBF: We love thinking of what Mary might have pondered on that night, that still and sacred moment when she just sat and thought about the miracle of that birth. I think it is so important for each of us to remember to do that in our own lives—to take a moment and just ponder on the night of Jesus’s birth.


DB: Mary reminds us that we need to find a moment to ponder the events of that sacred night in Bethlehem. As we do this, we celebrate the miracle of Christ’s birth and the gift heaven gave. So the invitation for Mary is to find some place and some time to ponder the miracle of Jesus’s birth.

Tradition Idea: Decorate heart-shaped sugar cookies and talk about Mary’s heart, or gather a box of things that might have helped Mary remember that holy night. Just take time to calm everything that’s going on around you and remember the night of Christ’s birth.

Day 4: Angels


EBF: I just love the thought of voices I know well telling each other of the Savior’s birth. And as I think about that, I think, “Isn’t that what happens when we sing those songs before institute or when we sing those songs before sacrament meeting? Or even if you go caroling from house to house as neighbors, that we are just telling each other what we know and what we believe and what we love about the birth of Jesus Christ.”


DB: The angel embodies the heart that runneth over with good tidings of great joy in this season. The angels are a reminder of anticipation of good things to come and it should fill our hearts with warmth overflowing. So the invitation for the angel is to fill your heart and home with the carols.

Tradition Idea: Either go caroling with your family or turn on Christmas carols in your house and just enjoy all of that beautiful music. But whatever you do, make yourself some hot cocoa to go along with it!

Day 5: Shepherds


DB: [It is believed that] the shepherd fields right outside of Bethlehem are where they raised lambs for sacrifice in the temple, which is so symbolic because Jesus is the Lamb of God and was born to be sacrificed. And something that shepherds would normally do, is they would take the lambs—remember that were first born and male and had no blemish—

EBF: And they would check them. They would check over all of them. And when a lamb was born that looked like that—

DB: Right, they would wrap them up in swaddling clothes and they would lay it on the manger floor. So when the angels come and give [the shepherds] that sign to look for Jesus, they knew that they were looking for the Lamb of God. They knew what it meant.


EBF: The shepherds symbolize a testimony within, an inner conviction that we have come to know Christ. The shepherds are a reminder for us to come closer to the Lord, now and with haste, and then to share our testimony with others. The invitation then for the shepherds is, of course, to share your testimony of Jesus.

Tradition Idea: Get a candle and give one to every person in your family. The person who starts gets to light their candle, and then you just light the candle of every person around the room and share one small thing you love about Jesus.

Day 6: Wise Men

EBF: There are so many lessons we love about the wise men. One is that they were privileged to search out and seek for the Savior. But the second lesson is one that we don’t talk about very often, and it is my favorite one. After they had that encounter with Jesus Christ, they were led to journey another way [home]. It changed what they were doing in their life—that encounter with Christ made that big of a difference in their lives.


DB: The wise men exemplify the journey each of us take as we seek Jesus. They remind us that as we draw closer to Him, we will be led to continue our journey a different way. So, this is the invitation from the wise men, and it is simply to journey closer to Christ.

Tradition Idea: Keep a reminder of the wise men’s three gifts in your house and then think about what you learn from the wise men and how that might affect your journey as you move forward this year.

Day 7: Baby Jesus


EBF: There are a lot of traditions we’ve talked about, but we just need to make sure that we don’t miss the baby. That is how Christmas began. It began with God’s greatest gift that came to the world wrapped up in swaddling clothes. And the question is, at this special time of year, what will you do because of that great gift?


DB: This is the invitation for day number seven, and it is to give the gift of your heart to Him. Especially after you’ve realized that He gave the gift of His heart to us.

Tradition Idea: Get a card for every member of your family and write down a gift to give to Jesus Christ this year. Each year you can review and ponder the gifts from the past and choose a new one. The Christ child reminds us to offer a gift to the Lord this Christmas season, a gift based on the true “work of Christmas,” one that will allow us to focus on Christ all year long. We love the idea of the “work of Christmas” found in a poem by Howard Thurman—that Christmas actually began when the shepherds went home, when the star was gone, and when the angels went back up into the heavens. That’s when the work of Christmas begins, and it’s going to go forward throughout this whole year.

DB: This is such a beautiful time of year to remember how good God has been to us and to just try in some small way to return our love to Him because of how much He’s shown toward us. We just want to wish you a merry, merry Christmas and hope that the Spirit of Christ fills your home and heart throughout the rest of the year

Celebrate a Christ-centered Christmas with this colorful resin Nativity that is sure to be part of your family's traditions. Based on the book by Emily Belle Freeman and David Butler, designed by Ryan Jeppesen, this Nativity set tells a unique part of the story of each character from that first Christmas. Available now at


Stay in the loop!
Enter your email to receive updates on our LDS Living content