By: Steve Negley

Posted: December 25, 2023

Category: Daily Devotional

Lenox Excerpt

Christmas has been celebrated throughout the world for nearly two thousand years. Yet many of our most cherished Christmas traditions only began during the Meddle Ages.

At that time, interest in the Holy Family flourished and found expression in a multitude of ways. Statuettes of Mary and Joseph, together with the babe in the Manger, abounded. Elaborate alter-pieces with painted or half-sculptured depictions of the Nativity were created. Medieval pageants and plays about the miracle at Bethlehem were performed for the illiterate masses.

From this interest came one of the modern world’s most popular Christmas traditions – the manger scene or “crèche.”

The history of the crèche is long and illustrious. St. Francis of Assisi is believed to have staged the first life-sized version in the year 1223, when he gathered together real animals and a crib in the forests above Greccio, Italy.

Most crèche dating before 1700 are known only by description. Sumptuous and elaborate, their creation required the specialized skills of myriad craftsmen and artists. Even the Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci was not too great to design scenery and decorations for a church crèche.

The first Nativity Scene created specifically for a private home was staged by the Duchess Costanza Amalfi in the 16th century, although the Piccolomini Castle of the Dukes of Amalfi was hardly a typical “home”. That crèche, comprised of 116 pieces, was a magnificent example of what the era’s privileged classes enjoyed.

Not until the 18th century did the general public begin to devise their own Nativity figures and scenes. Ranging from devoutly simple to remarkably complex, these folk-art crèche often placed the Christmas story in the homeland of the creator – the Tyrolean mountains, Sicily, the South of France – thus depicting Bethlehem in infinite variety.

By the 19th century, crèche could be found in a diversity of materials and innovative styles – fashioned of painted cardboard, ceramics, papier-mâché or punched metal, with figures of pewter, pottery or wood. Some even had figures that spun from the heat of candles; while miniatures, for traveling were displayed in dainty little boxes. All the while, the wealthy continued to stage grandiose scenes that took up rooms of space.

In our modern world, crèche are as treasured as ever. For in all their variety, one thing remains constant. Today, as in centuries past, they confirm anew our awe and wonder of the very first Christmas.


Wonderful God, in sending us Your Son, Jesus, to be born of Mary, Your Word indeed became flesh, and we have beheld a new and radiant vision of Your glory. We praise you for bringing us out of darkness, and into marvelous light as we accept Your gracious gift, following Him as our Lord and Savior, in whose name we pray. Amen.