Cribs and nativity scenes are a special part of Christmas. Many of us have our favourites. The ones we remember may not be artistically beautiful. Often it is an association we have with a particular nativity that makes it special.
Cribs started to appear in the thirteenth century. St Francis of Assisi encouraged the devotion when he constructed one at Greccio in Italy in 1223. The custom spread and by the beginning of the 17th century in many places the crib setting had become an intricate landscape and many additional figures were added – sometimes representing villagers or people of the location where the crib was constructed. In this way making cribs developed into a folk art in Western Europe, especially in Portugal, the Tyrol and in Sardinia.
The folk art cribs carried the important message that God comes among us as we are and where we are – the scene of Bethlehem could be interpreted in differing ways in differing locations and cultures to proclaim this truth.
By the 1600s home cribs began to appear. In England a different custom grew. Christmas mince pies were baked in an oblong manger shape and had in them an image of the Christ child. Eventually, however, the Christmas crib began to be found throughout Western Europe, including the British Isles.
Today many crib sets for church or home are commercially made, but the folk art making of cribs still continues. In some parts of central Europe hours and hours are spent making new sets. In schools, and in homes today, children, as well as acting out the nativity story, draw and paint it, and may even make their own nativity sets.
This year at St Chrysostom’s we’ve invited children of our primary schools to join the folk art tradition and make their own sets for display in church. We’ll also add a few other examples of nativities. Then during the display week children, parents, church people and friends are all invited to see the nativity sets, and contemplate the meaning of Christmas.
Work is well underway now in the classrooms and we are looking forward to see the lovely ‘folk art’ of the children of our wonderfully varied community.
The display has an open evening on Monday 4th December 7-8.30pm and then is open at Church Tuesday, 5th December 11am to 5pm, and Wednesday to Friday, 6th to 8th, 3 to 5pm. (Special arrangements outside those times can be made.)