This year marks the 800th anniversary of the first nativity scene, a tradition practiced worldwide by countless households and churches displaying figures recreating Jesus' birth.
Nativity scenes have become synonymous with the Christmas season as each year millions put together different variations portraying the birth of Jesus. The tradition dates back to 1223 after St. Francis of Assisi visited the Holy Land and wanted to recreate what he saw for his friends and family in Italy.
"St. Francis of Assisi went to Bethlehem and was moved by the nativity scene and wanted to help people to understand what it looked like, to get a feel for the humble nature of Jesus birth," Jeffery Kloha, chief curatorial officer at Museum of the Bible explained to CBN News.
At Christmas mass, St. Francis staged a live reproduction of the scene of Jesus' birth complete with animals, actors, and a hay-filled manger outside the town of Greccio, Italy.
"He wanted to share with the people of Greccio this beautiful ceremony of the Nativity," said Melissa Carey, CEO of The Christmas Cabinet. "And it's so interesting because of the...hay that he put forward in front of this cave. People would bring their animals and it is said that if they ate from the hay, they would be healed from any illness that they have."
The birthplace of the first nativity remains a cherished place today that has been visited by Pope Francis. Manger scenes and reenactments have come a long way since those humble beginnings 800 years ago. In Washington, D.C., the Christian ministry Faith and Liberty has brought Christmas to life for the past 20 years with live actors and animals outside the U.S. Capitol and the Supreme Court.
The Museum of the Bible is displaying three award-winning, handmade manger scenes from the 2023 Nativity Crib competition in Malta.
For a beautiful nativity you can display in your home, Melissa Carey's Christmas Cabinets turns the story of Jesus' birth into an Advent calendar.
"I wanted to take the chaos out of Christmas," said Carey. "I wanted to make sure that people were having a meaningful, intentional Advent, where by Christmas morning, they would be prepared to receive the beautiful gift of Jesus Christ."
On each day of Advent, you can open a drawer in the Christmas cabinet to find a character in the story of Christ's birth, including a Bible verse and devotional that goes along with it. The cabinet goes beyond the usual nativity favorites to include other important characters like Caesar Augustus and John the Baptist.
"It is so important that people realize that the characters in the Bible, the people in the Bible, are real factual, historical characters, not some made-up fairy tale," continued Carey.
While nativities now come in all shapes and sizes, one thing they have in common is helping to bring a bit of joy at Christmas time as they remind us of the wondrous gift of Jesus Christ.