Advent 2023 – 800 Years – Celebrating the Nativity Scene

Advent 2023 – 800 Years – Celebrating the Nativity Scene

Each year during the season of Advent we set up Nativity Scenes (crèches) in our homes and churches. This scene captures for us the glorious moment of Christ being born among us, telling the story of the Christ Child, Mary and Joseph, angels, shepherds, the magi, and animals. Each Nativity Scene is unique as some have cultural ties, others are creative in style, and others are passed down from generation to generation. The way we set these scenes up in our homes is also unique – some of us place them under the tree, others on the mantle and still others create full background scenes to enhance the story.

I have loved the treasure of the Nativity Scene since I have been a child. Each year I would spend time just gazing upon the scene before me. I continue to do this now, to pause before the scene and be reminded of the mystery and gift of God with us. Any church or home I visit during the Advent and Christmas seasons I try to stop in front of the crèche for at least a moment of prayer. I would encourage all of us, no matter our age, to do this during this season – let us be reminded of why we celebrate.

I have had the great privilege of seeing many Nativities over the years. Some in places such as St. Joseph Oratory in Montreal, at a Nativity Festival in Wisconsin and even at Greccio in Italy. Each time being held captive by the creativity and beauty before me.

Greccio is the birthplace of the presentation of the Nativity Scene and this year we celebrate 800 years of this gift. St. Francis of Assisi is credited with creating or further enhancing this tradition in 1223. He had a desire for the people to be reminded of the birth of Christ – the simplicity and humbleness of God born in the poverty of life. He created the scene in a cave at Greccio (a favorite place of his to pray). He had his friend John help him carry in straw and bring in a donkey and ox. He then invited the people of Greccio to come with torches and candles and light the way to the cave and manger. There on Christmas Eve 1223, Midnight Mass was celebrated in the cave and the people were filled with wonder and awe. They encountered again the Christmas story not as a story of long ago, rather as a living real story which intersected with their lives. The annual tradition took hold and from 1223 the creating of the Nativity Scene has unfolded into an annual treasured Christmas ritual.

What is the story of your Nativity Scene?

Where did it come from?

Why do you like it?


Praying in the Season:


As you set up your nativity scene or spend time in prayer before it, pray with each part of the scene. Meditating with the nativity connects us with how St. Francis and the early brothers prayed. Place your self in the bible scene of the birth of Christ. Visualize it and prayerfully enter into it. Become one of the characters. How is your heart stirred? What are you being called to do or who are you being called to pray for?


Praying with the:

Stable and Manger – giving thanks for shelter and for the Bread of Life.


Animals – consider how they aid our living.


Shepherds – praying for the poor, those who labour to make ends meet for their families.


Magi – give thanks for the treasures we have and share with others.


Angels – pray for those who share good news with you and your community.


Mary and Joseph – pray for your parents, for young couples preparing for the birth of a child, for those who have journeyed with you.


Christ Child – give thanks and praise for the gift of God with us – Emmanuel – born for us.



Advent Blessings!


– Br. Michael, ofm