The world is indebted to St Francis for giving us the beautiful custom of the Nativity Scene.
The following extract is taken from: http://www.fisheaters.com/adventcribs.html While it is not a traditional site, the entire document gives an informative account of how and why St Francis set up the first Nativity Scene:
St. Bonaventure, who wrote another biography of St. Francis, described the institution of the crib like this:
Now three years before his death it befell that he was minded, at the town of Greccio, to celebrate the memory of the Nativity of the Child Jesus, with all the added solemnity that he might, for the kindling of devotion. That this might not seem an innovation, he sought and obtained license from the Supreme Pontiff, and then made ready a manger, and bade that hay, together with an ox and ass, be brought unto the spot. The friars were called together, the folk assembled, the wood echoed with their voices, and that august night was made radiant and solemn with many bright lights, and with tuneful and sonorous praises. The man of God, filled with tender love, stood before the manger, bathed in tears, and overflowing with joy.
Solemn Masses were celebrated over the manger, Francis, the levite of Christ, chanting the Holy Gospel. Then he preached unto the folk standing around at the Birth of the King of poverty, calling Him, when he wished to name Him, the Child of Bethlehem, by reason of his tender love for Him. A certain knight, valorous and true, Messer Giovanni di Greccio, who for the love of Christ had left the secular army and was bound by closest friendship unto the man of God, declared that he beheld a little Child right fair to see, sleeping in that manger, who seemed to be awakened from sleep when the blessed Father Francis embraced Him in both arms. This vision of the devout knight is rendered worthy of belief, not alone through the holiness of him that beheld it, but is also confirmed by the truth that it set forth, and withal proven by the miracles that followed it. For the example of Francis, if meditated upon by the world, must needs stir up sluggish hearts unto the faith of Christ; for even the hay that was taken from the manger by the folk proved a marvellous remedy for sick beasts, and a preventative against divers other plagues, God magnifying by all means His servant, and making manifest by clear and miraculous portents the efficacy of his holy prayers.
The history of the Nativity Scene should be of interest to all. I would especially like to encourage parents and grandparents to foster this beautiful tradition. Not only is the Nativity story attractive to children, its historical relevance should interest both the young and the old.
So, in the spirit of St Francis, let us honour the beautiful tradition of the Nativity and transmit its history to future generations.
And be creative! For example, make your own Nativity scene using cardboard/construction paper. Have the children colour and cut out the figures. Have the older children do research on the various heroes of the Nativity. Have them present their findings. Have them act out scenes.
Remember that Christmas season extends until Candlemas (Feb 2) and so you and your children will have plenty of time for creative Nativity work!
Pax et Bonum
Sister Constance TOSF