Nativity scenes help Catholics make Nativity history

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The Holy Family is represented in a Christmas crib. (archive photo of the courier)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first installment in the Courrier catholique news series “Why Catholics…? Which aims to answer questions about what Catholics do and believe.

Each year, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, Catholic families around the world share the centuries-old tradition of creating the Christmas crib. In the extravagant and modest homes, the nativity scenes – or Nativity scenes – have emerged from the warehouse, their figures gently unwrapped, and Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus carefully positioned near the manger or manger.

Some nativity scenes only present the Holy Family – Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. Others include sheep, shepherds, camels, magi, angels, and sometimes a menagerie of other animals. Father Gary Tyman, who collects nativity scenes from all over the world, owns one that features a giraffe, elephant and ostrich.

Many nativity scenes are carved or framed in wood or fired in ceramics, but some of the nativity scenes in Father Tyman’s collection were made from corn husks, bottle brushes, burlap, and pegs. The creators of these scenes used every material at their disposal and were incredibly creative, he noted.

Regardless of the diversity of the characters, the art and the making of the nativity scenes, they all tell the same story, he said.

“For me, seeing the different nativity scenes expresses the feeling that God can be born at any time, in any culture, among any people,” said Father Tyman, pastor of the parishes of Notre-Dame de Lourdes and Sainte. -Anne in Brighton and Rochester. “He tells us about the Incarnation, God becoming one of us.

The practice of displaying a manger is not an exclusively Catholic custom; it is also shared by many Protestants. The roots of the scene itself come from the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus, but Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first known living nativity scene in the Italian town of Greccio in 1223, according to Admirabile Signum, Apostolic Letter 2019 from Pope Francis on the meaning and importance of the manger.

“Everyone present experienced a new and indescribable joy in the presence of the Christmas scene. The priest then solemnly celebrated the Eucharist in the manger, showing the link between the Incarnation of the Son of God and the Eucharist ”, wrote Pope Francis.

The Christmas crib arouses the wonder of those who contemplate it because it shows that God loves us so much that he “stooped down to take our littleness”, according to Pope Francis.

“Installing the Christmas crib in our homes helps us relive the story of what happened in Bethlehem,” Pope Francis wrote. “Of course, the Gospels remain our source of understanding and reflection on this event. At the same time, its staging in the crib helps us imagine the scene. It touches our hearts and brings us into the history of salvation as contemporaries of a living and real event in a wide range of historical and cultural contexts. In a particular way,… the manger invited us to “feel” and “touch” the poverty that the Son of God took upon himself in the Incarnation. “

Some specific practices related to the Christmas crib also help worshipers enter into the gospel story, Father Tyman noted. For example, many Catholics leave the Three Magi or Magi – and any camels or other creatures that accompany them – away from the rest of the scene until January 6, the feast of Epiphany. Some people take them to the manger bit by bit over the course of several days, Father Tyman said.

“We’ve done a bit of that in our churches, starting them at some point outside of the manger itself, and then gradually bringing them there,” he noted.

Another common practice is to keep the figure of the baby Jesus from the manger until Christmas, or at least until the end of the Christmas Eve Mass. This practice is observed in Saint Anne and Notre Dame de Lourdes, and Father Tyman also witnessed it in Assisi when he attended midnight mass at Saint Francis Basilica on Christmas in the mid-1980s. .

“They did it there with a lot of drama and spectacle, at midnight producing the image of the child and placing it in the manger,” recalls Father Tyman.

The practice of holding baby Jesus until Christmas reinforces the sense of expectation, longing and anticipation that characterizes the Advent season, he said.

Regardless of when Jesus and the Magi arrive on the scene, nativity scenes are attractive to children, attracting them and helping them teach them about the faith, Father Tyman added, noting that nativity scenes also bring a sense of nostalgia. to many adults.

“Standing in front of the Christmas crib, we remember when we were children, impatiently waiting to install it,” Pope Francis wrote in his apostolic letter. “These memories make us all the more aware of the precious gift received from those who transmitted the faith to us. At the same time, they remind us of our duty to share this experience with our children and grandchildren.

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