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Keeping up Tradition: The Nativity Scene

Ceramic folk art nativity from Ayacucho, Peru.  See more like it here: http://www.itscactus.com/catalog/Nativities-29-1.html

Ceramic folk art nativity from Ayacucho, Peru. See more like it here: http://www.itscactus.com/catalog/Nativities-29-1.html

Nativity scenes are one of the most cherished of holiday symbols. Displayed publicly and privately around the world as performance art or as sculptural groupings made of paper mache, wood, metal, ceramics, or other media, expressions of the Holy Night are as varied as Art itself. It was an idea originally conceived in 1223 by none other than St. Francis of Assisi and blessed by His Holiness, Pope Honorius III. Francis organized the nativity display in Greccio, Italy as a living pagent, with friars and the local folk enlisted to portray the Holy Family, shepherds, Magi and livestock from a neighboring farm to round out the cast. The event was an immediate success and was adopted as a holiday traditon that spread throughout Christendom in the years that followed, including the creation of nativity sets carved from wood.
As Christianity arrived in the New World, so too did the tradition of the nativity scene. As with many other Old World practices, it was adapted by indigenous cultures to it’s new environment Thus, nativities took on characteristics that were suited to it’s viewers. In Andean locales, for instance, Joseph and the shepards were likely to wear knitted hats and mantas, rather than keffiyehs and robes of the eastern Mediterranean. (There is a great article with photos of many renditions of the nativity that just came out online this week in the Huffington Post that you can read here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/09/a-creche-course-at-christmas_n_2252966.html 

That is one of the things that makes them so interesting and so tempting to collect. Folk art interpretations of the humble stable setting, the attending animals, the adoring Magi, the simple

Haitian metal nativity by Jean Marie Soulouque.  See more metal sculpture nativities here: http://www.itscactus.com/index.php?p=catalog&mode=search&search_in=all&search_str=nativity&x=32&y=21

Haitian metal nativity by Jean Marie Soulouque. See more metal sculpture nativities here: http://www.itscactus.com/index.php?p=catalog&mode=search&search_in=all&search_str=nativity&x=32&y=21

shepherds, and the Holy Family are uniquely wonderful. Whether the shepherds are bundled against European winter chill, or wrapped in sarongs in tropical heat, the meaning, the message of the nativity is a clear today as it was in the time of St. Francis: The Birth of the Child was a Heavenly Gift for all Mankind.

 

Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

 

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