The History of Nativity Sets
St. Francis of Assisi staged the first nativity scene in 1223 to inspire the celebration of Christ’s birth in the people of Grecio. He used people and animals, and set up the nativity scene outside for midnight mass. Eventually, when every church was expected to display a nativity scene at Christmastime statues replaced humans and animals.
In 1982, Pope John Paul II inaugurated the annual tradition of displaying the Christmas Crèche in Vatican City. The nativity scene is always setup before the Christmas tree in Piazza San Pietro.
In the latter part of the 20th century an Italian Presepio Nativity scene was donated to the White House. This nativity scene is displayed in its traditional location in the east room of the White House.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, New York displays a Neapolitan Baroque Crèche in the Medieval Sculpture Hall. This Nativity set was given by a collector, Loretta Lines Howard, and has been displayed since 1957 underneath a decorated Christmas tree.
The largest nativity scene, the Presepe Cuciniello (Cuciniello’s Crib), is on display at the National Museum of San Martino in the historic town of Naples, Via San Gregorio Armeno.
Fascinating Figures from Nativity Past:
The typical figurines of nativity sets include Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. In addition to these three central characters, the three wise men (Magi) that bear gifts, the shepherds, angels, and animals may be included in a nativity scene.
Adam and Eve, Noah and the Ark, the Twelve Apostles, and other Biblical characters have often been added to nativity scenes.
Santons are small nativity figurines that were first hand painted in France during the revolution when churches were closed, and large nativity displays were banned. These “little saints” (Provencal) were modeled after people living and working within the Provencal village (i.e. the blind man, or the produce seller).
Nativity Set Display:
Some people wait a week after Christmas day to place the wise men in their nativity display to commemorate the week it would have taken them to travel to Bethlehem, where Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus were staying
Most families take their nativity scenes down soon after Christmas day, but most churches will keep their nativity set on display until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord – which usually occurs a couple of weeks after Christmas day.
St Patrick’s Guild features nativity figurines and sets from one of the most infamous producers: Fontanini. The house of Fontanini has been producing nativity figurines since 1908 in a small village in Tuscany. The process for making Fontanini nativity figurines is thorough, starting with the creation of the mold and ending with an elaborate hand painting of each figurine. These works of art have gone through rigorous evaluation before a mold is even made. Each character added to the nativity scene is researched and evaluated for historical accuracy representing Biblical Bethlehem precisely. Fontanini devotes up to two years perfecting a single nativity figure.
These elegant nativity pieces sold by St Patrick’s Guild are carved and hand painted by the artist, Susan Lordi, to give each nativity figure a unique sentiment. The metal accents, carving, and washed out colors are what define these classy uplifting nativity pieces. Willow tree is manufactured, and marketed by Demdaco – who “exists to lift the spirit by providing product that helps people connect in a meaningful way.” (Last Resource)