The History of the Christmas Crib

The History of the Christmas Crib

- Categories : Actualités Religieuses

  • Where does the term "crib" come from?
  • What is the symbolism of the crib?
  • Where does the origin of cribs in homes come from?
  • Who created the Christmas crib?
  • Why decorate your home with a crib?
  • Who are the characters in the crib? 
  • How many santons in a crib? 
  • How to arrange the santons in the crib?

At Christmas, in houses or shops, we often find Christmas trees, decorations, candles... 

But also the crib. During the Christmas period, in many families, it is a religious tradition that is still followed. For Christians, it is the most important decorative object. Today, families, but also shopkeepers and town halls install their nativity scenes... 

With the trio of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, it reminds us that Christmas is first and foremost a Christian festival celebrating the birth of Jesus. 

 

Where does the term "crib" come from?

The word "crib" means "manger" and refers directly to a text in the Bible which states that Jesus, at his birth, was laid in a manger by his mother, Mary. Because of the unusual nature of this birthplace, we still use it today to refer to a place where babies and young children are welcomed. The Bible also mentions shepherds and scholars from far away bringing gifts.

 

What is the symbolism of the crib?

The crib is a symbol of poverty, as Mary and Joseph sought refuge in a hotel and found no place to stay, so they found a stable for shelter. It is also a prophetic symbol of Jesus being given as food for humanity. It is the first earthly place that Jesus encounters at his birth, and it is also a sign from God to guide the shepherds to the Saviour. The crib depicts the birth of Jesus and also recalls the wonder and joy of welcoming a newborn child.

Where do nativity scenes in houses come from?

The French Revolution was the origin of nativity scenes in homes. During this period of the Revolution, access to churches being complicated, Catholics decided to invent domestic nativity scenes to celebrate Christmas at home. The Provençal santons, referring to each inhabitant of the village, were a great success, as everyone could see themselves in them by having a figurine in their image.

 

Who created the Christmas crib?

According to tradition, it was Saint Francis of Assisi who organised the first living crib in a grotto reminding him of the one he had seen in Bethlehem. This crib was created in Greccio, during the night of Christmas 1223. Later, under the influence of the Franciscans, the custom of living nativity scenes gradually spread throughout Europe. Wooden and earthen nativity scenes were gradually made. It was in the 16th century that miniature nativity scenes appeared in churches and convents. Later, they also appeared in homes as an element of decoration and prayer.

Why decorate your home with a crib?

Decorating the home with candles, having meals with the whole family together, are all part of different traditions. The nativity scene, celebrating the birth of the baby Jesus, and thus the promise of a new era, joins this symbolism. The nativity scene allows families to bring in something that illustrates and dramatises the arrival of Jesus and the hope of a new beginning. It also supports the Christian belief in this very important event in tradition and the Bible. 

Who are the characters in the nativity scene?

The baby Jesus

The baby Jesus is the main character of the crib because it is organised around his birth. He is usually depicted in a manger, swaddled or naked. 

Joseph and Mary

Joseph and Mary are the two parents of Jesus and are therefore the main elements of the crib. They are depicted with a benevolent gaze on Jesus, Mary kneeling beside her son and Joseph standing with a staff in his hand.

The donkey and the ox

The donkey and the ox also have an important place. The donkey having carried Mary to Bethlehem and the ox warming Jesus with its breath.

The Three Wise Men

The Three Wise Men, Melchior, Gaspard and Balthazar, have come from far and wide to witness this event, guided by the shepherd's star. They bring gifts such as myrrh, incense and gold.

The shepherds and their sheep

The nativity scenes also feature shepherds with their sheep, who were the first to know about Jesus' birth in the stable.

The Angel

An angel is also often present in the crib, reminding us of the divine presence. It often refers to the angel Boufarel, who brought the good news to the shepherds.

How many santons in a crib? 

In general, a nativity scene contains at least 8 santons, for the smallest nativity scenes and miniature nativity scenes, these can have 3 or 4 santons. 

 

How should the santons be arranged in the crib?

According to tradition, Mary is usually placed on the side of the donkey and Joseph on the side of the ox. The space between these two santons is reserved for the manger in which the baby Jesus will be placed from 25 December onwards: the moment of Jesus' birth. Mary is placed on the side of the donkey because it reminds us of her arrival in Bethlehem on the back of a donkey. It is also on the back of this same donkey that she will be able to flee to Egypt on the Way of the Holy Family.

The three Wise Men are placed far from the cot when it is set up; they will be brought closer together as the days go by to symbolise their journey. They will end up at the bedside of the newborn child at the time of the Epiphany.

Prayer to celebrate the Christmas crib


Lord Jesus, at this Christmas time we thank you for the birth of your blessed son, who came into this world to save mankind.

We thank you for the cot where you were born, for the simplicity of this place which symbolises true humility.

Help us to remember the true meaning of Christmas, which is love and peace, by reminding us that the manger is the place where you began your mission to save the world.

We pray that this cot will be a reminder to us to care for others, to be lights in the world.

We pray that this manger will be a reminder of your birth, which changed the world forever.


Amen

Share this content