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Nativity sets put faith in the front yard

With Advent just weeks away, Catholic families are ditching Santa, Rudolph and candy canes for the Holy Family

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Mariette Ndaira’ proudly displays a Nativity themed Christmas scene in her front yard in the inner west of Sydney. Photo Darren Ally
Mariette Ndaira’ proudly displays a Nativity themed Christmas scene in her front yard in the inner west of Sydney. Photo Darren Ally

For many, November kicks off a familiar Christmas ritual.

We head to the shed to drag out the old Santa and Snowman, dive into the tangled nest of lights, and dust off the elves, garlands, sleighs and candy canes.

We don’t stop, until every surface in the front yard is awash in red, gold, white, and green.

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Welcome to Christmas in 2023—where the real reason for the season, the birth of Our Lord, Jesus Christ—often gets snowed under a mountain of Christmas symbols. Just not Christian symbols.

But next time you’re on your annual Christmas lights pilgrimage around suburbia, keep your eyes open for a growing number of faithful front yards.

For 20 years, Mariette Ndaira’ has proudly displayed a Nativity themed Christmas scene in her front yard in the inner west of Sydney.

“I’m Lebanese, my parents did the same thing in Lebanon. The Nativity was the focus of our season,” Mariette said.

Her display has become so popular it has become a local tourist attraction, featured on national news bulletins and drawing hundreds to her Belfield home every year.

But for Mariette, it’s all about her faith.

“I love to do something special for Jesus. And share it with others,”
she said.

“I love seeing the joy on people’s faces, especially on the children. This is why I do it. To let them know the true meaning of Christmas.”

Her daughter, Rania, recalls in previous years her mother has used her real grandchildren as baby Jesus and live animals to recreate Bethlehem—all in the name of authenticity.

“Mum’s had to downsize. Before, she had a real Bethlehem in the front yard,” Rania said.

“Still, she keeps at it. This is her passion. Reminding people that without Jesus there is no Christmas.”

Paul Sarks has been selling religious articles for churches, homes and schools for over 62 years.

Paul Sarks with his life sized nativity set. Paul has been selling religious supplies for over 62 years. Photo: Darren Ally
Paul Sarks with his life sized nativity set. Paul has been selling religious supplies for over 62 years. Photo: Darren Ally

He believes the demand for Nativity scenes is getting stronger every year.

“We’ve sold so many over the years, you think they must be in every home—but there’s always new demand,” Paul said.

Throughout the front yards of middle Australia, Paul says it’s Lebanese Maronite and Filipino Catholics leading the uptake in faith based front yard displays.

“They tend to have a strong approach to their religion. The Maronites and the Filipinos and new arrivals who have got an embedded religion in them, want to enhance it, now they’re in a new country,” he said.

Paul’s father started the business, Pellegrini Sarks, in 1946, when the first Nativity sets they sold were to local Sydney churches.

“They were expensive because of freight costs, being imported from Italy, but they were quite beautiful,” Paul said.

Then came in the 1960’s arrived more mass-produced nativity sets from Hong Kong, which made them more affordable.

“Families started buying three figures to place in their homes, just the holy family and you could build up to 16 figures—maybe a shepherd or two,” Paul said.

Soon came the outdoor sets that range from 30cm for around $300 to the 80cm Nativity set, for over $3000, which have been popular for outside displays.

Fast forward to today, where one of the Nativity sets Paul has on display is on sale for $21,000 dollars.

“The large models have been copied off the original Italian designs. They’re excellent quality—they exemplify the quality of the workmanship,” Paul said.

He advises families wanting to inject some more religion into their front yard display, to start small.

“I think if circumstances limit you—start with the Holy Family and just plan to add to it every year. That minimises expenditure but enables you to prepare for the future,” he said.

Back in Belfield, Mariette and her large family are readying themselves to light up her Nativity scene for the first time in 2023.

“I just want everyone to be proud of their faith, I want my display to light up other front yards and hopefully light up all of Australia,” she said.

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