The tradition of including a standing camel—alone or with a camel driver—in a Nativity scene goes back hundreds of years.
Originally, tableaus depicting the birth of Jesus were found only in churches. Around the 15th century, people began to display Nativity scenes in their homes as well. As the practice grew, so did the number figures included in the scene. Household inventories of nobles’ homes of that era list nativities with more than a hundred figures.
It was natural that one of the first figures to be added to those of the Holy Family, shepherds and Wise Men was that of a camel, for it is one of the earliest animals mentioned in the Bible and was the standard means of desert transportation at the time of Jesus’ birth. Magnificent sculptures of this large beast of burden presented a dramatic contrast to those of the traditional sheep and donkey. They were undoubtedly much admired during the open house held to display the cherished Nativity scenes.
The sculpted camels and drivers represented the entourage of the Three Wise Men. Not knowing how long their journey would be, the wise would have them well provisioned—and to protect themselves from desert bandits, they would have traveled in a caravan.
Camels were wonderfully suited to desert travel. Able to cover about 20 miles a day, they could go for long periods of time without water and could carry as much as 400 pounds in addition to a rider.
Nativity displays of the Renaissance time paid tribute to this stalwart animal by placing it at the birth of Jesus. Now Lenox continues this centuries-old custom with “The Camel & Driver”—a Beautifully crafted sculpture in the style of the Renaissance artists.
Holy One, we offer prayers of thanksgiving for those wonderous travelers that faced barren desert to witness the Christ child’s birth. We are grateful for their witness of proclaiming God’s saving mercy had indeed come and in this season of gathering around the manger, may we too witness to the light of world as he lives among us always, Amen.