The Nativity scene. Those words alone can elicit feelings of nostalgia and wonder. A simple scene or crèche with just Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus huddled in a stable is enough to make one stop and think about this day over 2,000 years ago. The angels foretold, and the shepherds heard, and the wise men sought this baby in a manger. None of them truly understood what this birth would bring, or exactly who this baby was.
It is said that around 1223, Saint Francis of Assisi asked to display a living nativity scene in a cave. His inspiration came from his recent Holy Land visit where he saw the traditional birthplace of Christ. This act of worship and celebration drew quite a lot of attention, and it gained popularity rather quickly. Now people see them in homes, office complexes, malls, and of course, churches.
A nativity scene can come in all shapes, sizes and materials. They also come with variances in characters. A traditional set is Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus, but more options are available as well. There may be a stable that the family is set in or in front of, but that is just the basics. Typically when a set is sold it comes with these basic pieces. However, there are many more items available to most sets. Common materials used in a nativity scene is a plaster mix, rubber, ceramic, wood, or glass. There can be a combination of materials used together, as well as the incorporation of various fabrics. Sizes can vary from miniature to life-size and nearly everything in between. What kind of scene someone chooses really is based on personal preference and where they will be using it.
What are some additional characters available for a nativity scene? Probably right behind having the three main characters would be the shepherds and angels. Next in line would be the three wise men. Those would be followed up by a donkey, camels, sheep, oxen, and other stable animals. There can also be other buildings beyond the stable. Manufacturers have introduced other characters to the set in recent years, including potters, sellers of various goods, musicians, and the innkeeper, just to list a few. They have taken a simple scene and created an elaborate display of old town Bethlehem. In addition to these extra options, there are also palm trees, Cyprus trees, and other flora to add for more interest.
There are also different ways in which a set can be displayed and how the figures are created. Many sets have a halo around the heads of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. This denotes the holiness or divinity of the family. Many times the baby Jesus is shown lying in a manger with his arms outstretched. This is said to represent the salvation to which all can receive through his invitation. Commonly Mary is seen with her hand over her heart. This is said to be a reflection of Luke’s statement of how Mary kept the things that the angel told her and pondered them in her heart. There are other representations in the various figures as well.
There is something special about each set, and it is a genuine representation of why many people celebrate the Christmas season.