The Origin and the Relevance of the Christmas Crib

Christmas brings the memory of the birth of Jesus Christ in several ways. The lighting of the star, distribution of special Christmas sweets, singing of the carols, serenading and the live Christmas crib, Christmas parties, Christmas decoration, the putting up of the Christmas crib etc., brighten our Christmas experience. All these Christmas rituals have a special place in the homes as well as Churches of the Catholics.

The Christmas crib is one important Christmas tradition that is very close to the hearts of Catholics. It is said that the Christmas crib dates back to St. Francis of Assisi. It was in 1223 that the first Christmas Crib was put up in the woods of Greccio near Assisi. There is an inspiring story of the making of the first Christmas crib. St. Francis is said to have sought the help of a holy man, Messier Giovanni Velitta. It is said St. Francis told Velitta, ‘if you desire that we should celebrate this year’s Christmas together at Greccio, go quickly and prepare what I tell you; for I want to enact the memory of the Infant who was born at Bethlehem and how He was bedded in the manger on the hay between a donkey and an ox. I want to see all this with my own eyes’. The good man faithfully carried out the instructions of St. Francis of Assisi. Thus, Greccio became a new place of attraction and people gathered and rejoiced at the making of the crib. St. Francis’ idea of devoutly making the crib spread in the Christian world.

Today the making of the crib has become an important tradition during Christmas in the World. The crib sets up the scene of nativity in the churches, public squares and catholic homes. This means the crib evolved from an art that was reserved for the Churches and Monasteries to folk art by moving into the homes of Catholics. The mystery of incarnation thus was en-fleshed with the installation of the characters of the story of the birth of Jesus Christ. Thus, the birth of Jesus was enacted with artful items that depicted Mother Mary, St. Joseph, Angels, Star, Shepherds, the three kings etc., that creates the atmospherics that takes us back to the time and situations when Jesus was born.

Crib, therefore, remains a powerful weapon of the proclamation of the message of Christmas and the ignition of the joy of Christmas. Catholics as well as non-Catholics flock to see the crib in the Churches, public squares as well as the homes of ordinary people. The crib, therefore, is a great evangelizing tool. Catholic self –evangelize themselves as well as proclaim the message of Christmas to all people of other faiths.

This process of evangelization can be enhanced by introducing a few changes. One can introduce new items that enable us to bring our lives into the crib. While the traditional crib takes us to the events linked to the birth of Jesus Christ, we can try to make the crib relevant to us today by putting items like buildings, Churches, temples, mosques to indicate that Jesus is born for all humans. We can also install items that depict political scenarios, environmental degradation, ills of consumerism etc. Thus, install a prophetic crib. The message of such a crib can bring the relevance of the mystery of the incarnation in our life, making the crib an important evangelizing site. It can challenge us to work to usher in the kingdom of God amidst us. The crib therefore can beautifully articulate orthodoxy (message of Christmas ) and initiate orthopraxis ( enable us to live our faith) and create an ortho-community ( become people of God).

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao