You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

History of Nativity Scenes

Nativity scene on my home mantel.
        St. Francis of Assisi created the first nativity scene in 1223 in Greccio, Italy. A live nativity scene staged in a cave, it had humans and animals cast in the Biblical roles and was an effort on his part to emphasize the worship of Christ rather than upon gift giving. Some say he created the manger scene as an alternative for pilgrims wanting to go to Bethlehem, which was then occupied by the Turks.
        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 The ban was revoked by Governor Edmund Andros.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.

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