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A Short History on The Nativity Scene Set and Christmas Story

Updated on February 12, 2012

History's Original Nativity Scene

The Christmas nativity scene is a visual embodiment of the legendary story in the Bible of Jesus' birth. This age-old story is written in the New Testament in the books of Matthew and Luke. When Joseph and Mary couldn’t find a room at an inn, they were offered shelter in a barn for the night. The generosity of the barn owner, shown to the pregnant couple, would become a main theme throughout the following centuries: Good Will unto all men. Mary gave birth in that barn that night. Upon the birth of Jesus, the newly born Savior was visited by Angels, shepherds and 3 wise men from the east among others They were led by a bright star to the manger. They came from near and far to pay respect and offer gifts to the newly christened child. The wise men, the new parents and baby, shepherds, various animals and the barn are all represented in most Nativity Scenes. Culturally, it tends to represent one of the more emotional icons representative of the Christmas Spirit, and certainly its Story.

Nativity Scene Gifts

Where did the Nativity Scene begin?

Early art depicted the nativity scene in mosaics and ornately stained glass in Churches and Cathedrals across central Europe. The earliest mention of a live nativity scene dates back to the early 13th century in Italy. St. Francis of Assisi is largely credited with bringing to life the Live Nativity Scene. His idea was fermented on a trip to Northern Africa and came to fruition upon his return to Greccio, Italy in 1223. In essence, it was a marketing event for Christianity. He hoped to personify the story and sentiment of the season with live people. It worked. The nativity scene is now a standard piece of our Christmas Décor. To see a selection of nativity scene sets, click here.

The Nativity Scene is Embedded in Christmas Culture

In the next 300 years, nativity scenes would evolve from live characters portraying the scene to wooden and ceramic sets. Ornate figures were carved, painted and set within magnificent scenes in churches and homes for display. The idea took a major hold in Germany in the 1600’s. The Germanic artisans spared no detail in their static representation of the surroundings of the birth of Christ. The Sicilian King, Charles III was known to be a passionate collector of these nativity sets. When word spread of his fondness for collecting these holy depictions, it wasn’t long before the trend grew to households all across central Europe.

The nativity scene is one of the many iconic decorations of Christmas. Their size can range from fitting into your palm to a life-sized set. They can be pricey holiday decorations as well. The figurines of nativity sets are often hand crafted and painted. These lavish displays conjure deep feelings and sentiments that embody the Christmas Spirit. It touches on feelings of faith and good will. Collectors usually acquire a complete set by adding one or two finely crafted pieces each year.


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