Pharos-Tribune

Online only

December 14, 2012

Slate's Explainer: Why people put up nativity scenes

(Continued)

Within a couple centuries of Francis' inaugural display, nativity scenes had spread throughout Europe. It's unclear from Bonaventure's account whether Francis used people or figures to stand in for Jesus, Mary and Joseph, or if the spectators just used their imagination, but later nativity scenes included both tableaux vivants and dioramas, and the cast of characters gradually expanded to include not only the happy couple and the infant, but sometimes entire villages. The familiar cast of characters we see today — the three wise men and the shepherds — aren't biblically accurate. Of the four gospels in the New Testament, only Matthew and Luke describe Jesus' birth, the former focusing on the story of the wise men's trek to see the infant king, the latter recounting the shepherds' visit to the manger where Jesus was born. Nowhere in the Bible do the shepherds and wise men appear together, and nowhere in the Bible are donkeys, oxen, cattle or other domesticated animals mentioned in conjunction with Jesus' birth. But early nativity scenes took their cues more from religious art than from scripture.

After the reformation, creches became more associated with southern Europe (where Catholicism was still prevalent), while Christmas trees were the northern European decoration of choice (since Protestantism — and evergreens — thrived there). As nativity scenes spread, different regions began to take on different artistic features and characters. For example, the "santon" figurines manufactured in Provence in France are made of terra cotta and include a wide range of villagers. In the Catalonia region of Spain, a figure known as the "caganer" — a young boy in the act of defecating — shows up in most nativity scenes. In 20th- and 21st-century America, nativity figurines became associated with kitsch rather than piety, with nonreligious figures like snowmen and rubber ducks sometimes occupying the main roles.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Online only
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Poll

The Pence administration continues to cut Indiana agency budgets despite a state surplus of $2 billion. Is this wise management of state funds?

Yes
No
Not sure
     View Results
Featured Ads
AP Video
Six Indicted in StubHub Hacking Scheme Former NTSB Official: FAA Ban 'prudent' EPA Gets Hip With Kardashian Tweet Bodies of MH17 Victims Arrive in the Netherlands Biden Decries Voting Restrictions in NAACP Talk Broncos Owner Steps Down Due to Alzheimer's US, UN Push Shuttle Diplomacy in Mideast Trump: DC Hotel Will Be Among World's Best Plane Crashes in Taiwan, Dozens Feared Dead Republicans Hold a Hearing on IRS Lost Emails Raw: Mourners Gather As MH17 Bodies Transported Robot Parking Valet Creates Stress-free Travel Raw: Fight Breaks Out in Ukraine Parliament Disabled Veterans Memorial Nearing Completion Last Mass Lynching in U.S. Remains Unsolved Home-sharing Programs Help Seniors Ex-NYC Mayor: US Should Allow Flights to Israel
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.