The Tradition Of The Nativity Scene
“She (Mary) gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger...”
The nativity provides inspiration to Christians around the world during the Christmas season because it represents the foundation of our religion. The nativity scene is also a time for followers of Christ to show the secular world the true meaning of Christmas which is the birth of Christ.
The displaying of a nativity is also known as a crèche, manager, or crib. It is a scene with figurines and sometimes live characters portraying the birth of Jesus, and are commonly displayed in churches, public squares, and shopping malls during the Christmas season.
The nativity scene usually exhibits the infant Jesus, his mother Mary, and his father Joseph. Often times it has shepherds, sheep, and angels displayed near the manger. A donkey and ox are also frequently used in the nativity scene. The display repeatedly includes the “wise men” along with the camels that belong to the “wise men”.
However, when did the tradition of the displaying of the nativity scene begin? According to Wikipedia, “Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first nativity scene in 1223 A.D. (a living one) intending thereby to cultivate the worship of Christ, having been inspired by his recent visit to the Holy Land where he had been shown Jesus's traditional birthplace. The scene's popularity inspired communities throughout Catholic countries to stage similar pantomimes.”
According to St. Bonaventure, in the biography of Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Francis was granted permission from Pope Honorius III to set up a live nativity scene with hay and two live animals - an ox and a donkey - in a cave near the Italian village of Greccio, Italy. He then invited the villagers to come to view the reenacted scene of the birth of Christ on Christmas Eve where he preached about “the babe in Bethlehem”. St. Bonaventure also wrote the following: “Within a hundred years every church in Italy was expected to have a nativity scene at Christmastime.”
Following the ritual of Saint Francis of Assisi other countries began to realize the importance of proclaiming the birth of Jesus, therefore other countries began their own tradition of nativity scenes. According to Wikipedia, an example of the different nativity is: Provence's are small terracotta nativity's “hand-painted santons (little saint)”.
During Christmas week as Christians all over the world observe the birth of Jesus Christ, many of you may have an annual tradition of displaying a special nativity scene inside your home or possibly in your yard. The nativity may be very old, or new; the same message is conveyed to everyone who gazes upon it, and that is a reminder of the birth of Jesus.
As the secular world continues to try to take Christ out of Christmas, it is ever more important for a Christian to continue to announce to the world about the “babe in Bethlehem” just as Saint Francis Assisi did in 1223 A.D. to the villagers in Greccio, Italy.
Lord God, thank You for sending Your Son to us. Please help us during this Christmas season to reflect Him in all our ways. Amen.
~ Ann Brock Ludington