A Christmas Tradition: Nativity Scenes

A Christmas Tradition: Nativity Scenes

Did you know …?

Nativity scenes show Joseph, Mary, and the shepherds gathered around baby Jesus as He lies in a manger. This wonderful Christmas tradition we love began almost 800 years ago. In the country of Italy, in 1223, St. Francis of Assisi built a nativity scene outside his church.

Children inside the first nativity scene

The children at the church stared at the manger scene in wonder. They went inside to take a closer look. They sang songs and thought about the gift of God’s Son, Jesus.

Nativity scenes grow more popular

These nativity scenes became more popular. Outdoor nativity plays were acted out in parks. In some cities in Europe, the plays would take place on the streets. The Christmas plays were performed in schools and theaters.

christmas-crib-figures-1060016_1280Nativity scenes sold

By the 1700s, artists created nativity scenes to be sold in shops throughout Europe. These nativities were small enough to fit on tables in homes.

Nativity plays at Christmas Eve services

Christmas Eve services were held by almost all churches in England and the United States by the 1850s. Soon, children began to act out the Christmas story at these services. The shepherds would follow a star to find Jesus, the newborn King, in a stable. Since Mary didn’t have a crib to lay her baby in, she placed him in a manger, a kind of wooden trough or box that animals eat from. These mangers were an important part of the nativity scene.

After World War I, lighted manger scenes were displayed in churches and public buildings. By the 1950s, people began buying them as Christmas decorations for their own yards.
– Sandra Merville Hart

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