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Catholic Activity: Christmas Crib

Here Jan Wilson recounts the origin of the custom of the Nativity scene, and suggests ways to bring this tradition within your home.

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This ought to take the pride of place among the Christmas decorations as it tells the story of Jesus' birth in the stable, and how shepherds visited him. Many years ago, in the thirteenth century, when most ordinary people could not read, St. Francis decided he would demonstrate the Christmas story in a way anyone could understand. He set up a stable scene in a cave not far from his home in Assisi, with real people and animals. As people gathered around to see what he was doing, he told them how Jesus had been born in a simple stable and how angels had appeared to shepherds telling them to go and find for themselves the Messiah who had been born. The idea gradually caught on and now the Christmas Crib (also called a creche or Nativity scene) is a universal part of the celebrations.

When St. Francis set up the first Christmas Crib he wanted to convey the wonder and excitement of how God came to us as a tiny baby. We can still convey that wonder to our children. For example, we can leave the figure of baby Jesus to be put into the manger first thing on Christmas morning. There are many ways of making a crib. Have you tried dressing up Playpeople or other toy figures using coloured paper or pieces of material? It is easier than making your own figures.

In France the crib has additional figures of local craftsmen - bakers, carpenters, and so on - to symbolize everyone coming to the stable to worship Jesus.

Activity Source: Feasting for Festivals by Jan Wilson, Lion Publishing Corporation, Batavia, Illinois, 1990

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