Over time, the nativities spread to practically all Christian countries, each region giving its own flair to the set. The tradition in Germany is to display all parts of the Nativity with the exception of baby Jesus, who is only displayed after Christmas Eve. Although most Americans do not follow this tradition, our local non-profit hospital does follow this tradition.
Christmas is my favorite time of the year. I love the focus on kindness, charity, and family togetherness. The decorations are calming and enjoyable to me. In fact, I spend three days decorating my entire upstairs and downstairs and then three months enjoying it. Yes, my Christmas decorations do not come down before February. 🙂
Each section of my house has its own theme. We have one large bookshelf that I empty and my children decorate with a Christmas village. Then there is narrower bookshelf of nutcrackers given to my husband every year by his mother. We have a collection of dancing penguins given to my mother-in-law every year partying away in front of the fireplace.
I will admit the Christmas tree is beautiful, but I actually despise it. I hate putting it up, fussing with the lights, and then decorating it. But I do it every year because my husband loves the tree, my legally-blind mother-in-law loves seeing the lights, and my boys love decorating it.
However, of all these wonderful and sentimental decorations, my favorite is my collection of nativities. Just for the fun of Christmas and my own personal curiosity, I decided to do a quick post on the history of nativities. Enjoy my decorations and the interesting history of nativities through the ages.
The History of the Nativity Scene
St. Francis of Assisi is credited with staging the first nativity scene in 1123. According to St. Bonaventure, a Franciscan monk who wrote the biography The Life of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Francis got permission from Pop Honorious III to set up a manger with hay and two live animals – an ox and a donkey. He set up the manger scene in a cave in the Italian village of Grecio, and then invited villagers to come and gaze upon the scene while he preached about “the babe of Bethlem”. Supposedly, he was so overcome with emotion that he could not say the name “Jesus.”
Nativity scenes as we know them today started in the 1300’s. First, they began as terracotta display pieces for Italian churches. At this time, Nativity sets were displayed year around.
In the mid-1500’s, they began to make their appearances in the homes of wealthy citizens. These were much smaller versions than the statues found in churches and were generally made out of wood, wax, or terracotta. The figures also began to develop beautiful clothing.