Nativity scene is important reminder Print
Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016 -- 12:00 AM

As I put out the Nativity scene in our home this year, I thought about the meaning of this familiar Christmas decoration.

It is actually more than a decoration, but instead is an important reminder of the true meaning of Christmas.

St. Francis’ inspiration

In looking into the history of Nativity scenes, I was reminded that the first Nativity scene supposedly appeared about 800 years ago, more than 1,200 years after the birth of Christ.

It was St. Francis of Assisi who was inspired to re-create the Nativity scene. He was disgusted by the greed and materialism that was rampant in Italy in 1223, according to an article on the website of the Archdiocese of St. Louis Office of Stewardship.

St. Francis believed that people had forgotten that Jesus came to us not as a rich king, but as a poor child. St. Francis wrote to a friend saying, “I want to do something that will recall the memory of that child who was born in Bethlehem, to see with bodily eyes the inconveniences of his infancy, how he lay in the manger, and how the ox and ass stood by.”

The idea of a Nativity scene was so radical that St. Francis even wrote to Pope Honorius III for permission to move forward with his plans.

Meaning of the Nativity scene

That first Nativity scene was set up in a cave. Live people and animals were used, including an ox and a donkey, which are still used today in many Nativity scenes. The idea of setting up live Nativity scenes became popular throughout Italy, and the tradition spread throughout the world.

Just as St. Francis intended, when we look at these animals and the humbleness of the Nativity scene, we are  reminded that God did not provide a fancy birth for His Son.

It’s why the old, familiar holiday traditions are best. And spending time with family and friends — as well as participating in Christmas liturgies — should be the best way to celebrate this season.