With Christmas approaching quickly, we are seeing many symbols that we often only really see at Christmas time, such as Christmas trees, candy canes, wreaths and the combination of red and green. There is though a very important Christian symbol, that has an extensive amount of meaning – the Nativity Scene.
Nativity comes from the word ‘nativus’, meaning ‘born’. So, the Nativity Scene we see at Christmas quite literally means the Birth of Jesus. The first Nativity Scene was created by Francis of Assisi in 1223, where he used a figure made of wax to portray baby Jesus.
A typical Nativity Scene includes Baby Jesus, Mother Mary, Joseph, and ox and donkey, shepherds, sheep, the Three Wise Men, the Angel, and of course, a manger and the stable.
The focus of the nativity, Jesus, is generally in the centre of the scene, in the manger, with Mary close next to it. Mary is often portrayed wearing blue, symbolising faith, loyalty and purity. Joseph is seen standing behind, looking over them, painting himself as the ‘protector’ of the family. Although the ox and donkey were not mentioned in the New Testament, they have been a feature in the Nativity scene for a very long time. Early Christian theologians saw an allegorical meaning within the ox and donkey. They said the Ox represented Israel and the Donkey represented the Gentiles.
“The ox knows its master, the donkey knows its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” – Isaiah 1:3.”
The shepherds are portrayed in the Nativity Scene as they were the first to find out about the birth of Jesus, as said in Luke 2:8-14. They even saw Baby Jesus before the Three Wise Men, and therefore were the first evangelists. The Three Wise Men are depicted in the Nativity Scene as they were searching for the Messiah, to worship him. They’re often holding gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Angel is present as it brought The Wise Men to Jesus. In some Nativity Scenes, the Angel is holding a banner saying, “Gloria in excelsis deo”. This translates to ‘Glory to God in High Heaven’.
Although there’s no specific date to set up your Nativity Scene, it’s always encouraged to only place Baby Jesus into his manger on Christmas Morning, representing his birth on Christmas Day.