Pictures and displays have been used to tell Bible stories since the days of the early church. Nativity sets are popular indoor decorations for many homes during the Christmas Holiday's. In fact, the original nativity display was not motionless figurines. It was a live display with people dressed as Joseph and Mary with live animals.
IN 1223, St. Frances of Assisi had longed to see the nativity with his own eyes. Therefore, he planned a surprise for the people of the town. This turned out to be the first nativity display, which used real people and animals. This eventually spread to Germany in the 1600's. Traditionally the sets were displayed in the front of medieval churches and temples. Eventually carvings of these images were done in wood or made out of straw by artists.
|Living nativity scene|
The nativity scene moved to other countries like Italy where other materials such as stone and ivory was used. Many Italians commissioned famous artists to hand sculpt or carve their nativity displays.
When the town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania was settled in 1741, the people there brought this old tradition to America. Originally, the nativity sets were call creche, which means crib in French. Materials used today can range from paper mache, to glass or ceramic. A background of a barn or a manger are used by most people today, but a background of more natural materials, such as grass or rocks is also used by others.
|A giant nativity scene|
Christian Nativity scenes, in drawing, paintings, icons, etc. or in sculpture or other three dimensional crafts, usually show Jesus in a manger, Joseph and Mary in a barn or cave intended to accommodate farm animals. A mule and an ox accompany them, after the Apocryphal Gospels. The scene sometimes included the Magi or the Three Wise Men, shepherds, angels and the Star of Bethlehem. The traditional scenes that show the shepherds and Magi together are of course not true to the Bible story, since the Magi arrived much later (see Luke 2:7-16).