Where does the tradition of nativity scenes come from?

Where does the tradition of nativity scenes come from?

Many of us, by now, are rushing to get our homes decorated for the seasonal festivities upon us. Families with kids are probably ahead of the curve here. Putting up the tree, setting out the nativity scene, wrapping gifts and making lists and being good, because we know Santa Claus and the Three Kings are watching over us, as Christmastime approaches. As luck would have it, Casa Viva, on the 2nd floor of the shopping centre, already has a great selection of decorative items available.

But where did the tradition of making nativity scenes come from? Well, apparently they originated in Italy, with the first nativity scene being attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. Here in our country, making nativity scenes was introduced in the eighteenth century, as – without internet or TV – it was a good way to teach our little ones at home the story of the birth of Jesus.

The nativity scene, apart from being made with found objects from nature, such as trimmed tree branches, moss, stones and so on for the landscapes, is inconceivable without the typical figures of the tradition: the Holy family, the ox and the mule, the shepherds and, here in our territory, the caganer. And while these figures might have originally been made from whatever one had to hand that year, over time there emerged master sculptors in Catalonia who also dedicated time and effort – with great success – to the creation of decorative figurines for nativity scenes, typically inspired by rural costumes or exotic oriental designs.

Nowadays, whether it is to teach the religious history or more as part of the cultural tradition, the fact is that many people are true artists when it comes to making an impressive nativity scene, investing time, money, patience, care and considerable space, to create real works of art. And that is certainly a tradition worth preserving.

Illa Carlemany