The tradition of the Christmas Crib dates back all the way to the thirteenth century when the first one was celebrated. It was the idea of St. Francis of Assisi and brought to life by his friend Messier Giovanni Velitta.
Growing up, my family didn't have a Christmas Crib and the birth of Christ was never really mentioned. My folks had both abandoned their respective faiths.
I converted as an adult and when I was baptized in December of 1981, I received the manger and the Holy Family as a gift from a friend. I was able to buy the three wise men, the shepherd boy, donkey and lamb over the course of several Christmases. My first Christmas Crib was complete!
One year it went missing. It was a jarring experience for me, but happily I found it.
While setting up the Christmas Crib this year, I remembered reading an article about it's significance. This is Pope Benedict XVI's reflection on the tradition of the Christmas Crib:
Following a beautiful and firmly-rooted tradition, many families set up their crib immediately after the fast of the Immaculate Conception, as if to relieve with Mary those days full of trepidation that preceded the birth of Jesus. Putting up the crib at home can be a simple but effective way of presenting faith, to pass it on to one's children. The crib helps us contemplate the mystery of God's love that was revealed in the poverty and simplicity of the Bethlehem Grotto. St. Francis of Assisi was so taken by the mystery of the Incarnation that he wanted to present it anew at Greccio in the living nativity scene, thus beginning an old, popular tradition that still retains its value for evangelization today. Indeed, the crib can help us understand the secret of the true Christmas because it speaks of the humility and merciful goodness of Christ, who "though he was rich he made himself poor" for us (2 Cor 8:9). His poverty enriches those who embrace it and Christmas brings joy and peace to those who like the shepherds in Bethlehem, accept the angel's words: "Let this be a sign to you: in a manger you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes: (Lk 2:12). This is still the sign for us too, men and women of the third millennium. There is no other Christmas. - (from December's Magnificat)
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