The Nativity Scene or the Christmas Crib is first of all a beautiful Christmas decoration. But of course, it is much more. Its origins go far back in history. St Francis of Assisi, on a visit to Rome, had been struck by the mosaics, showing the birth of Jesus, in the Roman Basilica of Saint Mary Major. Francis had earlier visited the Holy Land and the caves in Greccio in his native Italy reminded him of the countryside around Bethlehem. His dream was to recreate in his native Greccio the wonder and awe which he experienced in Bethlehem. He also hoped that this experience could be made available to the local people of Greccio.
Fifteen days before Christmas, Francis asked a local man named John to help him to bring to life the memory of the baby born in Bethlehem. He wished the baby to be lying in a manger, upon a bed of hay, with an ox and an ass standing by. His friend prepared the stable in a cave and on December 25th, friars came to Greccio together with people from the local farms. They brought flowers and torches to light up the scene. When Francis arrived, he found a manger full of hay, with the ox and donkey in place. All those present experienced a new and indescribable joy in the presence of the first Christmas Crib.
The priest then celebrated the Christmas Mass over the manger, showing the bond between the birth of Jesus and the Sacrifice of the Mass. At Greccio there were no statues; the nativity scene was acted out by the people present. In this way the first Christmas crib became part of the process of passing on the faith to the people. Beginning with the childhood of Jesus the people learned to experience God’s love for them at every stage of Jesus’ life.
At Christmas, in the Crib, we see and experience God’s love for us. We see and we feel that God is with us and that we are with him. We realize that true happiness lies in the knowledge that we are loved. Like Saint Francis, we open our hearts to this simple scene. We thank God, Jesus, and the Blessed Virgin Mary whose love accompanies us every day of our lives.