Traditions of Christmas: Nativity

posted in: Christmas, Holidays | 0

Today we use nativity scenes as a reminder of the true meaning of Christmas.

But, how did they begin?

A nativity scene depicts the birth of Jesus as told in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first live nativity scene in 1223. This was done to emphasis the importance of the worship of Christ. He had recently returned from a visit to the Holy Land and was inspired.

“According to Bonaventure’s biography {The Life of St. Francis of Assisi}, St. Francis got permission from Pope Honorious III to set up a manger with hay and two live animals—an ox and an ass—in a cave in the Italian village of Grecio. He then invited the villagers to come gaze upon the scene while he preached about “the babe of Bethlehem.” (Francis was supposedly so overcome by emotion that he couldn’t say “Jesus.”) Bonaventure also claims that the hay used by Francis miraculously acquired the power to cure local cattle diseases and pestilences.”

Pope Honorius III gave his blessing to the exhibit. Within a hundred years, all of the churches in Italy were expected to have a nativity scene. The nativity scene’s popularity had caught hold.

The living nativity scene featuring actors is still popular today and has often led to plays of the living nativity pageants.

Nativity scenes have been created around the world in churches, homes, shopping malls, public buildings and other venues. A nativity scene can be live actors or created from a variety of substances from wood and metal to paper and wax to legos and food.

Different traditions of nativity scenes have emerged in various countries. For example in England, a mince pie was made in the shape of a manger. The Christ child was held here until the pie was eaten at dinner time.

Nativities scenes vary, but they all have Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus. Many have the wise men and shepherds with them. More detailed nativity scenes may include the animals, angels, and drummer boy present.

A donkey and ox typically appear in nativity scenes. This is because in Isaiah 1:3 we are told “the ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider”.

“The ox traditionally represents patience, the nation of Israel, and Old Testament sacrificial worship while the ass represents humility, readiness to serve, and the Gentiles.”

In 1982, Pope John Paul II inaugurated the annual tradition of placing a nativity scene on display in the Vatican City in the Piazza San Pietro before the Christmas Tree.

What is your favorite nativity scene?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.