Did you know that St. Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first nativity scene? St. Francis had a special devotion to the Child Jesus and had the idea of re-creating the humble beginnings of Jesus' birth in a cave nearby the town where he lived, complete with a manger and farm animals.  In an age of pomp and decadence, this was a great reminder to all about the poverty and simplicity of the Holy Family. Not unlike our own times!

As is the case with so many other things, the Catholic Church invented many time-honored traditions that have become so ingrained in our Western culture that we hardly remember their deeply religious roots.  You can read more about the Advent and Christmas tradition of St. Francis and the first nativity scene here.

Well, undoubtedly you have your own nativity scene set that you put up year after year (and if you don't have one, you definitely should!). If you don't already dress up your nativity scene a bit, I recommend it.  It's a great way to add more meaning to this very special Advent and Christmas decoration—so it becomes much more than just a decoration.

Here are my top three ideas for making your nativity scene more beautiful while at the same time adding in more meaning and symbolism:

  1. Evergreens - Evergreens are great to decorate your nativity scene with because evergreen is a long-established symbol of eternity and the resurrection.  Holly leaves and berries in particular also represent the crown of thorns and the drops of blood shed by Jesus for our redemption.  When you decorate your nativity set with Christmas holly, it makes the meaning and significance that much more prominent.  What you can also add to the holly leaves is stems from a rosemary bush.  Rosemary was named after Mary (another one of those old Catholic traditions!) and combining rosemary to represent Mary added to the holly berries to represent Jesus is a great way to remember Mary at the foot of the cross.
  2. Straw - Just like St. Francis of Assisi wanted to emphasize the humble beginnings of Jesus' birth, you too can do the same by surrounding your nativity scene with a bed of straw.  This can either be synthetic or real straw.  The bonus is that the smell of the straw will also serve to remind you of the stable where Jesus was born on that first Christmas night.
  3. Snowscape and Christmas lights - Decorating your nativity scene with a snowscape with Christmas lights underneath is a great way to symbolize the awe and wonder of that first Christmas night, the birth of the world's Savior.  The snow can represent Jesus' purity and the white Christmas lights can represent Jesus as the Light of the World.

I hope these three tips gave you some encouragement to treat your nativity scene as an object of devotion to the Holy Family and the Child Jesus this year.  Do you have any other ideas for ways to dress up your nativity scene?

Copyright 2012 Gretchen Filz