Skip to comments.Bringing Christmas to Life Again
Posted on 12/23/2006 4:11:18 PM PST by NYer
n 1223, St. Francis of Assisi inaugurated a pious practice that in places today has become so common that many think that it always existed.
To counteract these tendencies, on Christmas Eve 1223 in the town of Greccio, Francis set up the first crèche in recorded history. He brought in live animals — an ox and an ass. There was a baby and a young set of parents. There was plenty of hay and a manger. There was even the attempt — with hundreds of burning torches — to create the luminescence of a bright star. And Francis could not have been happier with the results. People came from all over to see the living nativity. Through all the sounds, sights and even smells, the people became convinced that Christmas was not just a cute story, but a real event, one that was not just past, but one they were called to enter into the present.
Living crèches like this spread quickly throughout Italy. The phenomenon soon extended into art, as artists started to paint nativity scenes with the main characters dressed anachronistically in 13th century garb — to emphasize that Christmas is not just a past event, but, even more importantly, a present one, in which every believer is called to “go now to Bethlehem” and “pay [Christ] homage.” As St. Francis’ first biographer wrote, “The Child Jesus had been forgotten in the hearts of many; but, by the working of his grace, he was brought to life again through his servant Francis and stamped upon their fervent memory.”
The crèches in our homes, the beautiful praesepios in our churches, the Christmas pageants and living nativities in our schools and CCD programs all have the same purpose: to “bring the child Jesus to life again” so that he may be “stamped upon our fervent memory.”
To help the Child Jesus come to life in us, Pope John Paul II called us all to live an intensely Eucharistic Christmas...
Just as in St. Francis’ time, the “Child Jesus has been forgotten in the hearts of many.” While the minds of multitudes still recall details of Christ’s birth and their memories are full of the words of Christmas hymns learned long ago, their hearts can have amnesia. Their reflection on Christ Jesus in Bethlehem no longer sets their hearts on fire with greater love for him. Christmas still may inspire them to actions of love for others, like altruistically helping young kids buy “Christmas shoes” for ill mothers or serving as Secret Santas for so many in need. But it fails to elicit the most important reaction of all: adoring love for the newborn king of kings.
Prior to his death in April, one of our contemporaries — whom future generations will likely regard as a great saint like St. Francis — tried to do for us what the poverello from Assisi did for his generation. The means he proposed did not involve animals, or hay, or the best attempts to emulate a shining star. They involved something far more basic, which we can often take for granted and treat as lifeless as a plaster statue of the baby Jesus. To help the Child Jesus come to life in us, Pope John Paul II called us all to live an intensely Eucharistic Christmas, for the same Jesus who was placed in a manger and adored by the shepherds and wise men is placed in our hands and in our mouths in holy Communion.
The best way for the Child Jesus to come to life again and be stamped upon our fervent memory at Christmas, he taught, is to remember that God-with-us is still with us. Bethlehem is as close as the altar and tabernacle of the nearest Catholic Church. This is indeed “good news of great joy for all people!” Merry Christmas!
NYer, which is the most moving/beautiful creche scene/set you have seen?
>> Just as in St. Francis time, the Child Jesus has been forgotten in the hearts of many.
Only to be usurped by commercialism and fantasy which has led to extrication.
livius is our expert on that
Thank you, NO!
Folks can visit my website at: www.SpanishNativity.com or my blog (which details my trip to Spain last week) at http://spanishnativity.typepad.com.
A visit to these sites will probably tell you more than you really want to know about Nativity scenes past and present, particularly those of Spain and Latin America.
Ooops! Left you all off the ping to my blog and website.
Anybody who has Nativity Scene info is welcome to post, btw, whether the scene is Spanish or not.
Thank you. Blessed Christmastide to you.
And to you too!
The most beautiful Nativity I have ever seen is set up annually, at the NY Metropolitan Museum of Art.
This tranquil shot would be quite different - and difficult to compose - after opening hours at The Met. Empty, the entrance to the Medieval Sculpture Hall lends itself perfectly to a soaring, contemplative atmosphere. To get some idea of how impressive the 18th-century Spanish choir screen from the Cathedral of Valladolid is in the background of this shot, the tree itself is twenty feet tall - not including its base.
Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche has been displayed each year since 1957 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from late November to early January. The annual candlelit spruce tree, adorned with angels and surrounded by a lively 18th-century Neapolitan Nativity scene, is a tradition inaugurated by collector and museum patron Loretta Hines Howard. The late Mrs. Howard began collecting crèche figures in 1925 and soon after conceived the idea of combining the Roman Catholic custom of elaborate Nativity scenes with the tradition of decorated Christmas trees that had developed among the largely Protestant people of northern Europe. Mrs. Howard donated more than two hundred crèche figures to the museum in 1964 to form the nucleus of this ever-expanding display.
Linn Howard, Mrs. Howard's daughter, worked with her mother for many years on the annual installation. Since her mother's death in 1982, she has continued to create new settings for the figures that she adds to the collection. In keeping with family tradition, Linn Howard's daughter, artist Andrea Selby Rossi, now joins her mother each year in creating the display. The exhibit of the crèche is made possible by gifts to The Christmas Tree Fund and the Loretta Hines Howard Fund.
"Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche" is on view from November 21, 2006 to January 7, 2007 in the Grand Hall in front of the Medieval Sculpture Hall at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10028-0198 (Telephone: 212-535-7710; Website).
Additional images at this link.
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