Last spring I discovered a book by Renita Boyle called Gingerbread Nativity which is basically an instruction manual on how to make your own nativity set out of gingerbread biscuits. I bought it there and then, and spent the next few months looking forward to being able to use it. I decided that the best bet would be to do it with Toddler church. It can easily be split into multiple sessions, which spreads out the baking over a number of weeks; and that also makes the story into small chunks that the little ones are able to understand. The only downside is that we started learning about Christmas in December, and the smell of gingerbread in my house didn’t leave for 6 weeks.
I decided that, as making gingerbread is quite a big commitment, I wouldn’t impose it on the other leaders- although they were more than capable of it, and just made the figures every week. It also meant that I had time to tweak the recipe and cooking times, and didn’t need to worry about who the book with the templates had got to!
We didn’t quite follow the suggestion in the book about the way to split the story- I wanted to make sure there was enough but not too much for the children to do every week, and not have the figures with variations all in one week. So we started off with the angel telling Mary she was going to have a baby. They were decorated with pre-cut fondant for Mary’s clothes and the angel wings, so there was a little more prep than just cutting out the gingerbread pieces.
The next week we taught them about the angel visited Joseph and how they had to start a long journey to Bethlehem, so we made Joseph and the donkey. The donkey is one of my favourite figures. The front and back are made out of gingerbread, and the body is two oreo biscuits sandwiched together. Really easy but they look so cute.
By the next week Mary and Joseph had actually got to Bethlehem, couldn’t find a room and were staying in a stable, so we made stables. I made a bigger version for the group nativity set, and smaller ones for the children to take home. They had malted wheats as roof tiles, writing icing to draw bricks and windows onto the side, and lots of sprinkles to decorate them. The kids also had windows cut out before baking, and then filled with crushed sweets so they had stained glass windows in them.
The following week, which incidentally was only the 26th November, baby Jesus was born and we decorated the baby, a manger and some stars. Baby Jesus lay on a bed of crushed malted wheats (with the leftovers) rather than hay, and had a lovely marzipan face. We had lots of intense star decorating going on as well.
We had a break in the first week of December for our Christmas Party. We have a party at the end of every term, but now that a lot of the toddlers have older siblings in school with parties and Christmas plays, the last couple of weeks before term became too busy so we brought it forward. We had lots of party food and games and songs, and just had a nice relaxed time.
In theory, we were back on track the next week, but there were no kids there, so instead the grown ups had a good time decorating the gingerbread themselves. We were on the shepherds visiting Jesus so we made gingerbread shepherds and marshmallow sheep. Like the donkeys, the sheep were incredibly cute (even if they do look a bit angry) and the toddlers definitely missed out!
And so our last week brought us to the wise men- not quite at Epiphany but I don’t think they noticed. By that point I was running low on icing making supplies so the icing glue ended up being quite runny and didn’t work massively well as clue. In the end I tried switching to actual glue, but by then it was too late. They still ended up looking alright though, even if they did keep falling over!
All in all, it was really worth doing. The kids looked forward to having gingerbread every week, the adults who came with the children really enjoyed it as well, and visitors to the church who saw the nativity were very impressed with it. It would work really well with an older age group as well who could make the fondant clothes and shapes for themselves. If we had the facilities it would have been nice to make and bake the gingerbread in church as well, as it really is very simple and would save one person having to cut out lots of shapes each week, particularly when you’re making figures with lots of pieces!
We ended up finishing it the week before Christmas when the schools broke up, which meant that the nativity set was up for the Christmas services in the church, helping to bring the Toddler Church into the church community when we had lots of guests in. If you’re stuck thinking of a Christmas programme for next year, I really would encourage you to consider doing the gingerbread nativity. The book is available on Amazon, or Waterstones if you order it in, and there are loads of pictures on Google to give you ideas on how to decorate it. I hope you all had a very Happy Christmas and New Year. Please get in touch if you have any questions or comments. Thank you for reading!