The nativity scenes are one of the most important symbols of the Catholic religion. We can boast a long tradition in the USA: from the classic Neapolitan nativity scene to that of Greccio, one of the oldest in history. Over the centuries, the crib’s passion for construction has spread worldwide, thus becoming a valid symbol of Christmas.
Before discovering which are the most beautiful and characteristic nativity scenes in the world, we want to focus on the history and birth of the nativity scene.
The tradition of the nativity scene in the world
The crib is one of the central representations of the birth of Jesus. Its origins belong to the medieval tradition. But today, the custom of setting up the crib is widespread in all Catholic countries. Among the first sources that speak of the Nativity, we find the 180 verses of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. And the verses of infancy report the characteristic events of Jesus’ birth. Still, most of the typical elements of the crib are found in the apocryphal Gospels or originate in other ancient traditions.
Some nativity scenes are surrounded by a background depicting the starry sky. Others prefer different landscape scenarios and figurines and shepherds of the nativity scene, often due to local traditions. So, another way to recreate this sacred representation is the live nativity scene. This too has medieval origins, but it is mainly in recent years that it has had an extraordinary diffusion in the USA.
Where was the first nativity scene born?
According to tradition, the first nativity scene was born in Greccio in Lazio by Saint Francis of Assisi in 1223. This event allowed Catholic families to know the value of the nativity scene. And the importance of its presence at Christmas. On this occasion, St. Francis gathered the faithful in the woods of Greccio, where he recreated the manger with an ox and a donkey inside a cave.
There is neither Mary nor Joseph in the sacred scene originally proposed by St. Francis. Nor even the Infant Jesus. The Saint spoke to the people and told them the story of the birth of Jesus so that even those who could not read the scriptures could know. The sermon of St. Francis was so vital that it was immortalized in one of Giotto’s frescoes that tell the “Stories of St. Francis.”
The tradition of the nativity scene in Spain
In Spain, the nativity scene tradition spread during the Bourbon domination of Naples, starting in Catalonia. With their creativity and skill, the Spanish artisans made this tradition their own by customizing the landscapes. Costumes and buildings of Palestine at the time of King Herod. Therefore, this way, the Catalan nativity scene has become the “historical” nativity scene with statues dressed in typical Palestinian clothes. At the time of the birth of Jesus.
Therefore peculiarity of the Spanish crib concerns a likable character: the “Cagan.” So it is a figurine depicting an inhabitant dressed in the typical Catalan costume, symbolizing fertility, prosperity, and equality. According to tradition, placing it inside the nativity scene is a source of luck and joy. So recently, this figurine often assumes the appearance of popular characters from the world of politics, sport, and contemporary society.
The nativity scene in France: one of the most beautiful in the world
The Provençal nativity scene was born as a direct expression of the Italian Baroque. We also see the use of wooden statues with hands and heads. And feet in terracotta or wax to represent all the characters of the nativity scene. The first Provençal crib is attributed to Mother Pica, who was already, in 1200, dedicated to depicting scenes of religious life.
For this reason, some scholars believe that the nativity scene tradition was born in France and that St. Francis of Assisi replicated this custom with some essential variations. Historically it is known that during the French Revolution, the nativity scene tradition was interrupted and only reappeared following an agreement between Pius VII and Napoleon Bonaparte. The typical element of the French nativity scene is the Santos clay statue. On sale all year round in the usual souvenir shops.
Germany and devotion to the nativity scene
In Germany, the tradition of the nativity scene is deeply felt. According to legend, the remains of the Three Kings are found in the Cologne Cathedral in Germany. And were transported here from Milan by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa in 1164.
With Jerusalem the “Holy City,” Rome the “Eternal City,” Santiago de Compostela in Spain. And Cologne, thanks to the Magi. During the Christmas period, many cities, including Munich and Nuremberg. And Augusta set up the Christkindlmarkt in the squares, markets aimed at worshipping the nativity scene. If you are looking for a magical place to share your passion for the nativity scene, this is the right place.
The nativity scene and the four traditions of Eastern European countries
Hungary, Russia, Poland, and Slovakia, each nation is characterized by tradition and customs in the worship of the nativity scene. In Hungary, the crib is built inside a church or stable-shaped box, which can be carried by hand. The Russian nativity scene is made on two floors: on the upper side, the settings of the birth of Jesus are reproduced; on the lower side, humorous scenes of everyday life are built.
Poland’s nativity scene is shaped like a cathedral covered with colored foil. And consists of three parts: at the top, we find the angels announcing the event of the birth of Jesus. In the center, the cave with the ox and the donkey is represented, while the Magi and Polish peasants are placed at the bottom. In Slovenia, in every peasant house, the nativity scene is built in a place the home defined as “sacred.”
And what about Nativity scenes in the rest of the world?
Numerous nations create magical and original nativity scenes on the occasion of Holy Christmas. In Latin America, for example, the nativity scene emphasizes the bright sun and the blue sky as Christmas falls in summer. In Africa, however, the first nativity scenes were initially built in plaster and brought as a gift by the missionaries.
So this article tells you about the most beautiful nativity scenes, choosing from the most original and with a strong tradition. Italy always remains in first place with an ancient and deeply rooted history of the nativity scene. That’s why we want to end this article with a bit of curiosity. The oldest nativity scene that can still be admired dates back to 1283 and is located in an underground chapel of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome and is made up of eight marble figurines.
Read also: Who Are The Saints In The Catholic Church?
To give shape to the Christmas nativity scene, there are all the iconic characters and references to traditional places. No matter the size of the setting, the magic it manages to recreate matters. With a few essential elements: the cave, the manger with the place to welcome the Baby Jesus, and the parents, Joseph and Mary. The angels, the ox, the donkey, sheep, and shepherds. As per tradition, the baby Jesus figurine is placed inside the manager at the stroke of midnight between 24 and 25 December. The magi figures slowly continue their journey. And reach the cave for the adoration of Jesus on the day of the Epiphany.