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The Christmas Message As Told Through Nativity Scenes from Around the World
A multimedia message for Christmas Eve/Day
by Rev. Frank Schaefer

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aint Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first nativity scene in 1223 (a "living" one) intending to cultivate the worship of Christ. The scene's popularity inspired communities throughout Christendom to stage similar pantomimes (1)

Living nativity scenes such as this one at St. Wojciech Church, Poland are still popular today.


But very soon elaborate and ever more elaborate static exhibitions were created with wax and ivory figurines garbed in rich fabrics set against intricate landscapes. (2)
Even to this day, many towns or backyards feature life-size static nativity scenes like this one in Chicago IL


Over time nativity sets became smaller and were used indoors, often to be placed under the Christmas Tree.  In various regions of the world, different materials, different techniques and backgrounds were used for the crafting of nativity scenes.


German Nativity Scene

This is a typical German Nativity Scene. You can tell, because it looks a lot like a castle scene. Notice how baby Jesus is portrayed with outstretched arms. This is symbolic of Baby Jesus blessing the people around Him in the name of God. It also anticipates his eventual death at the cross.


Congolese Nativity Figures

Congolese kings and shepherds attend the Holy Family. Skilled carvers in Kinshasa, capital city of Congo, crafted this 11-piece nativity set from locally grown wenge wood. Note that baby Jesus resembles the shape of a loaf of bread; Jesus in his later ministry said of himself: I am the bread that came from heaven, and in communion we receive him through the bread that is broken as his body was broken for us.


Haitian Holy Family Nativity

Two Haitian angels bend low over the Haitian Holy Family in this bright Caribbean wall hanging nativity. Artisans make this nativity from painted cut metal. Notice the dove that is hovering above the baby—the white dove is a popular Caribbean expression of the divinity which coincides with the symbol of the dove representing the Holy Spirit in the Christian tradition.



Gurung Nativity Manger

This nativity scene comes from the Gurung people in Nepal's central hill region. Notice the little dog in the bottom of the scene instead of the biblical oxen and donkey; dogs are honored animals in Nepali culture as they are said to be guardians that protect humans from the underworld.



This Peruvian portrayal of loving Mary and Joseph is not a Snuggie commercial, but rather shows the holy family wrapped warmly in traditional Peruvian clothing.

Isn’t it curious that baby Jesus looks a lot like the people in whose country the nativity pieces were crafted?

There is nothing wrong with that, because the central message of Christianity, indeed the central message of Christmas is that Jesus, the son of God, became human, that he became like us.

And “us” looks different depending on where you are in the world.  Christmas is not about finding and identifying the Jesus of history, Christmas is all about the Christ of our faith, about the word of God, the logos, the wisdom of God upon which the very foundations of the universe was built.  That Word became flesh and blood, he became like every man, woman, and child that every lived and ever will live anywhere in the world.

Besides the traditional barn nativity scenes, various backgrounds have become popular. The nativity figures are placed into a new setting, thus making a new theological statement and connection:



This charming nativity called “las manos”, for instance, portrays the baby, the holy couple a shepherd and even the animals in God’s protective hands. It expresses the belief in God’s deliberate providence and his closeness to us on the night in which God became human. God is especially active in creation as the Creator’s son becomes part of the creation.



Wall Nativity Scene

The idea for this unusual background was inspired by the wailing wall in Jerusalem (the remaining part of the supporting wall of the temple ruins) When Jesus lived this temple was intact and still in use.

The ruined wall visible today emphasizes the tragic truth of Jesus' words:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often have I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”


Street Nativity Scene

This nativity scene portrays the holy family among the people on the road--perhaps in a dead end, or at the end of all ways. And here - sometimes at night, if all is quiet - we meet the child, for the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost on the highways and byways. 


Nativity Scene Of Time

When the time had fully come, God sent his son...
Galatians 4, 4

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot, . . .
Ecclesiastes 3, 1ff

And I continue with:
A time for Christmas trees and a time for Nativity Scenes,
a time for the child in the manger,
a time for the man on the cross,
a time for the risen one
and a time for all peoples. . .

And at the end of time:

people will look to their Maker and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel...
Isaiah 17, 7

He is Christ, the king, our Savior who came to save all—if at all possible.   The Angels, God’s messengers, proclaimed it to the shepherds, ordinary working men, and the stars proclaimed it to the wise men in the far East: a king was born, a new kind of king, a Savior of all humankind.  God’s messengers still proclaim the good news!

No matter where you are in the world, no matter where you are in life, no matter how difficult your circumstances, no matter how hopeless or lost you may be, no matter how many mistakes you have made in the past, none of that matters as we witness the miracle of God with us on Christmas.

On Christmas Eve God proclaims to you and me: I, the God of the Universe, have come to you, I have become one of you and I want you to become one of my children.

On Christmas Eve God pleads with us, t accept his gift of love and salvation,

On Christmas Eve, God offers to set our feet on the right path, to give us new, real hope, On Christmas Eve God offers to change our circumstances, and to give us life, even life everlasting. Amen.



  1. “Nativity Scene” Wikipedia
  2. ibid.

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