The Christmas Crib & Its Origins

For many the Christmas decorations would be incomplete without a Nativity scene, depicting Mary and Joseph in the stable with the baby Jesus in a manger surrounded by assorted animals, and with the optional extras of the Magi, shepherds, singing angels and other culturally appropriate innovations. We have St Francis of Assisi to thank for the Nativity scenes we love so much today.

The story goes that St. Francis of Assisi created the first nativity scene in 1223 at Greccio, central Italy, in an attempt to place the emphasis of Christmas upon the worship of Christ rather than upon secular materialism and gift giving.

There lived in that town a man by the name of John (Messier Giovanni Velitta), who was a very holy man. St. Francis called upon John about two weeks before Christmas and said to him, “If it is your wish that we should celebrate this year’s Christmas together at Greccio, go quickly and prepare what I tell you; for I want to enact the memory of the child Jesus who was born at Bethlehem and how He was placed in the manger on hay between a donkey and an ox. I want to see all of this with my own eyes.” John prepared everything that St. Francis had told him. The Friars who had come from many communities, gathered around St. Francis as did the men and women of the neighbourhood. They bought candles and torches to brighten the night. St. Francis arrived and saw that everything had been prepared. The crib was ready, hay was brought, the ox and the donkey were led to the spot. The crowds gathered and rejoiced in the celebration.

Bringing alive the extraordinary scene of Jesus’ birth, Francis predicted, would inspire devotion among those who viewed it. And it did, St. Francis’ idea of recreating the Nativity scene spread quickly all over the Christian world, and soon there were Christmas cribs in churches and homes and also in public places.

Of course, some cribs have caused scandal. In 2004, Madame Tussaud’s in London attracted much public protest, including a caustic note from the Vatican, when their Nativity scene featured footballer David Beckham as Joseph and his wife Victoria as Mary, with Tony Blair, George W Bush and the duke of Edinburgh as the Magi, actors Hugh Grant and Samuel L Jackson as well as Irish comedian Graham Norton as shepherds, and singer Kylie Minogue as the angel.

This is certainly not what St Francis had in mind when he set up that first Nativity scene 792 years ago.

Do you have a Crib that you use each Christmas! If so bring the Infant Jesus from your crib to the 12.00 noon Family Mass on Sunday the 23rd of December to be blessed before placing into your crib.

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