Nativity sets come in a vast array of styles and are made from various materials. These representations of Jesus’ birth date back to 1223, over 1200 years past the actual time of birth. Saint Francis of Assisi is credited as starting this meaningful tradition. It is said that following a trip to the Holy Land, he became enthralled with Jesus’ birth. So, in honor of that and at the permission of Pope Honorius III, Assisi placed a manger with hay and two livestock animals in a cave in Grecio, an Italian Village. Passersby would come to view this scene and often were captivated by it and the message of Jesus that Assisi would be delivering. But why would this have impacted Assisi so much, and why does it continue to be a staple in many homes every Christmas season? The nativity is a reminder of God’s greatest gift, the Savior to the world. This act alone is one of the foundations of the Christian faith.
What Saint Francis of Assisi began started to spread throughout Europe and into homes throughout the world. Now, it is not uncommon to see nativity sets in front yards, businesses, and in front of churches. Many Christmas parades have floats with people enacting the Birth of Christ. No one is quite sure when Mary and Joseph entered into the nativity sets, but they were the first additions. And for years that is how they were made, a scene with Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus in a manger. Now there are more additions including the Three Wise Men, shepherds, various livestock, angels, and out buildings. Some collections even include trees, wells, and the people of Bethlehem. These additions have led to quite some controversy over the years as many theologians would disagree on if Mary and Joseph had all this company the night Jesus was born.
All the controversy aside, nativity sets are a mainstay in millions of homes. Due to their popularity, there is likely to be a style to suit just about anyone’s tastes. There are life-sized sets used in large areas like an atrium of a church or office building. These scenes can also be made out of weather durable materials with the ability to be anchored to the ground so that they can be used outside. However, most people do not have space for these and choose ones on a much smaller scale. Even a child can have a small set in their room.
As for the variety of these collections, there is the fundamental configuration of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. Most scenes have a manger of some type. However, some variances have his mother holding him. Joseph is seen holding a staff or kneeling by the manger. This triplicate can either be stand-alone or have a backdrop. Those backdrops typically resemble a stable of some kind, either elaborate or simple. Many times the Star of Bethlehem is located on top of the stable. In addition, there can be the magi, a shepherd, and an angel at the minimum. These can also be very intricate in design, or quite simple.
One quick look around the web, and it is clear that there are thousands of nativity sets to choose from. An online Christmas retailer will be sure to have the right set for any home.