Making a Scene at Christmas

2023 Nativity Displays at Bridge Mall Ballarat &
Catholic Diocese of Ballarat Arch


The first nativity scene recorded in history was conceived by St Francis of Assisi in 1223.  After visiting the Holy Land and birthplace of Jesus, St Francis was concerned that the meaning of Christmas was being forgotten.  To highlight the importance of the birth of Jesus, St Francis of Assisi obtained permission from the sovereign Pontiff to construct a nativity scene in a cave near Greccio, Italy.  By the 19th century the nativity scene was gradually replaced with static displays with baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a manger surrounded by richly robbed figurines and animals.

This year to celebrate Christmas, two nativity displays will be exhibited, with over 500 Christmas Nativities from more than 60 countries to be displayed at the Bridge Mall Ballarat and at the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat Archives.

The display at the Bridge Mall Ballarat will run from Tuesday, December 5 – Friday, December 22, 2023.

The display at the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat Archives will run from Monday, November 20 – Friday, December 22, 2023 and Thursday, January 4 – Monday, January 22, 2024 and will include nativity scenes from various private collections.

At these displays you can:
– see and smell real frankincense and myrrh;
– see coins minted around the time the census was called that brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem;
– see hand crafted cultural nativities from Australia, Africa, Asia, North & South America and Europe (and one that went to Antarctica); and
– see nativities that prize social justice and the environment.

For more information on the Bridge Mall Ballarat display, please contact Fiona Tonkin at Schools can book for an educational experience.

At the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat Archives, the exhibition space is limited therefore numbers are restricted and visitation is by appointment only between 10.00am – 3.00pm Monday to Friday. To book a visit please email the Archivist at

Every one welcome. Entry is a gold coin donation.

Download the flyer for MASAC 2023 displays

An online display of nativity scenes from around the diocese.


An online display of nativity scenes from around the world.

To make screen larger, press full screen bottom right

Image for enews and feature:


Making a Scene at Christmas has, recently, been travelling around Northern Victoria, avoiding floods and celebrating the birth of Jesus with the Catholic schools in Merbein, Red Cliffs and Swan Hill.   Only an essential group of over one hundred nativities, that tell the story from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew and the cultural nativities that children might have ancestral connections with, was taken on this part of the event.   Teachers, parents and parishioners were amazed and delighted with what they and the children experienced.

After going north, MASAC travelled back to Ballarat where the same nativities were shared with Lumen Christi Primary School, St Francis Xavier Primary School and Mercy Place Ballarat.

The full collection is on display in a shop in the Bridge Mall.  Everyone is invited to wander through the cultural and artistic nativities as well as enjoy some time travel with artefacts of the Birth of Jesus era.

Fiona & Kay

Nativity Presentation – pdf

Making a scene at Christmas Flyer


Vin Dillon, when travelling in the USA entered a “Christmas Shop” where he found many decorations but very few, and well hidden, nativity sets.   He wondered why is Christmas so divorced from the real story of the Good News of God’s incarnation.

On returning to Ballarat he developed an idea to open up the conversation where people can talk about the meaning of Christmas.  He sought seeding funding from the Cathedral Parish, found a few dedicated committee members and looked for people who had Nativity sets that they would be happy to display for a weekend in December.  Certain parameters were set and these have remained constant:

  • The display is to be colourful and professional;
  • Only nativities are featured – no trees, tinsel, santa claus, etc.;
  • It must be child friendly – achieved with a section for craft activities (making your own nativity), or nativities that can be safely played with;
  • Any profits beyond that which covers costs are given to charity (St Vincent de Paul);
  • Prior promotion is to all Christian Churches;
  • Non-commercial resources for parents are available free of charge;
  • Public liability is covered by Church insurance;
  • All nativities are welcome – this is not a display of “quality only”;
  • Frankincense and Myrrh are there to be seen and smelt.

Three collectors who were willing to display their collections, and other members of the community, loaned their precious nativities that had a story.  About 350 nativities were displayed on colourful cloths in St Patrick’s Hall.

Schools were invited and classes were given a valuable learning experience in rotation – the story, a walk through the nativities, an activity, input about Christmas.

It was well attended and it was decided that the Making a Scene at Christmas would continue and develop.  The Committee believed that it should travel through the Diocese and not be Ballarat-centric.

Over the years the structure of the committee has changed.


By displaying nativity sets the conversation of what Christmas is about will be opened for those who visit.  Their understanding of Christmas will be validated in a public forum.


  • Collections of Nativities that highlight the various elements of the Gospel stories, which highlight cultural variations, that have artistic merit or have a “special” story about them, are put on display in public venues.
  • An education program built around a smaller collection is developed for primary school children.  This involves telling the story of Jesus’ birth, age appropriate input on parts of the Nativity story, a look at the display and an opportunity to make a nativity.
  • Teachers’ notes and parents’ notes will be available for distribution.  These notes are aimed to support teachers and parents with age appropriate and simple activities that allow for the discussion of Christmas to happen.


Year Schools Student Numbers Locations Number of Days Vistor Numbers
2012 Ballarat
(St Patrick’s Hall)
4 400
2013 Ballarat
(St Patrick’s Hall)
4 400
2014 Warrnambool 4 1000
2015 OLHC, Wendouree

St Thomas More, Alfredton

Lumen Christi, Delacombe

St Francis Xavier,
Ballarat East

1000 Ballarat
(Nazareth House)Ararat
1 for each school

1 for Nazareth House

3 for Ararat

2016 St Augustine’s, Creswick

St Mary’s, Robinvale

St Patrick’s,
St Arnaud

350 Creswick



St Arnaud

(St Patrick’s Hall)

3 days Creswick

2 hours on the road

4 days Mildura

4 days Ballarat

2017 St Pius X, Warrnambool

St Alipius, Ballarat East

St Brigid’s, Ballan

Ballarat Specialist School

700 Shepparton


Robert Clark Centre)

1 for each school

3 hours Shepparton

4 days Canberra

5 days Ballarat


In 2016 MASAC applied for and received a grant from the Diocesan Foundation which, over two years, enabled the purchase of “setting up” items – a trailer, banners, table cloths, AV and audio equipment, bollards.


2012 – 2015:  Andrew Hayes, Fiona Tonkin, Keith Linard
2016 – 2017:  Andrew Hayes, Fiona Tonkin, Keith Linard, Kay Paton


The Committee has produced the following resources:

Making a Scene at Christmas - some ideas for parents
Making a Scene at Christmas - discussion notes for teachers