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The Living Nativity

Updated: Jan 23, 2020

Our family has over 70 manger, or crèche, sets from many different countries in our house (my wife thinks that is probably enough). They are made of wood, carved in stone, hammered out of metal, painted on ceramics, even one painted on a red roofing tile. They each show the story of Jesus, born in a manger, with a Mary and Joseph, usually along with an assortment of animals and an angel or two.

How did the tradition of manger sets come to be?

St Francis, in 1224, is given credit for creating the first living nativity and gathering people for a midnight mass around a stone manger with hay and some animals. I like to think of that cave in the Italian village of Greccio as “the second manger”. Francis wanted everyone to see, in their own time and place, what the love of God looks like and the extent to which God would bend low to restore human dignity. The love of God, for Francis, looked like a baby!

Soon other villages in Italy were having their own living nativity and eventually making figures of Mary and Joseph and animals, which were easier to come by and manage then rounding up sheep and cows. And who could find a camel in those hills? Each village sought to celebrate the birth of Jesus in their own unique cultural way. Today, we have smaller versions of the living nativity from countr