Christmas decorations brighten most homes during the holidays. For Catholics, the one that embodies the spirit of the season and their faith is the Nativity scene.

Square Gift Shop manager Sandra Barden with a Nativity scene.
Square Gift Shop manager Sandra Barden with a Nativity scene.

The Square Gift Shop manager Sandra Barden, who has sold many of those sets, said the creation of the first Nativity scene is attributed to St Francis of Assisi.
St Francis staged a living nativity scene in a cave near Greccio in Italy in 1223. “This Nativity scene was a living one, with people and animals cast in biblical roles. Over time, the people and animals were replaced by statues.
The Christmas images contained in the two Gospel stories have been very much promoted for us by St Francis,” she said.
Nativity sets are patterned after the scenes described in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.
“Luke’s Christmas Story (Luke 2:116) tells of the shepherds in the fields looking over their flock by night when suddenly an angel appears telling them the good news of the great joy for all people, a child is born, who is the Christ, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger,” Mrs Barden said.
She explained that the Nativity scene from this Gospel includes the baby Jesus with Mary and Joseph, a shepherd boy, and some animals. Some include a shepherd girl as well.
“The other story is from Matthew’s Christmas Story (Matthew 2:1-12) where the wise men from the East came to Jerusalem asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews, for they have observed his star as its rising and they came to pay him homage,” she said.
The set based on this story includes the Holy Family and the three kings. Over the years, though, the characters in both stories have been put together.
“Nativity sets often have figurines of both stories amalgamated into one set, showing the shepherds, camel boy, farm animals, an angel, the donkey, the wise men with their camels Mary and Joseph all paying homage to baby Jesus, set in a stable with a star,” she said.
Mrs Barden noted that wooden, carved images from Italy are getting scarcer, as the tradition seems to be slowly dying there. Still, she said, there are many Nativity sets to choose from.
“A Nativity set in a home, school or public place gives us a greater sense to celebrate this major feast of its true meaning, as many displays do not have Christ as the centre of Christmas,” she said.