|Nativity scene on my home mantel.|
Nativity scenes, or crèches (the French word for manger), became so popular that within a hundred years almost every church in Italy had one, though eventually statues replaced the human and animal participants.
|Nativity scene by St. Francis at Greccio, |
painting by Giotto
During early colonial times in New England, the Puritans didn’t approve of celebrating Christmas and outlawed it in Boston from 1659 to 1681. (Presbyterians weren't keen on celebrating Christmas either, as it was considered an Anglican tradition.)
During that time, an English tradition of baking a mince pie in the shape of a manger to hold the Christ child was also banned by specific legislation. The outlaw pies were referred to as “Idolaterie in crust.” The ban was revoked by Governor Edmund Andros.
Also in America, the tradition of decorative Christmas villages was rooted in the holiday traditions of the Pennsylvania Dutch. The construction of a nativity scene, also called a putz, were made at the base of a tree. These scenes, sometimes inspired by the story of Noah’s Ark, could include several hundred carved animals on their way to the ark.