What’s in a Nativity Scene? Explaining the Crèche

The Nativity scene, also known as the Crèche, is a beloved Christian holiday tradition celebrated for centuries. Each year, families and churches set up Nativity scenes to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. But have you ever stopped to consider the meaning behind the symbols in the scene?

The Nativity scene typically includes a stable, animals, Mary and Joseph, and the baby Jesus in a manger. The stable represents the humble beginnings of Jesus. He was born in a manger because there was no room for him and his family in the inn. The animals represent the presence of all of God’s creatures, including the lowliest of creatures, in the moment of Jesus’ birth.

The Adoration Of The Shepherds, 1622 by Gerrit van Honthorst

The Stable: The stable where Jesus was born represents humility and simplicity. It was a lowly place for the King of Kings to be born, but it was fitting for the Savior of the world to enter the world in such a humble manner. The stable also represents the messiness of life and the fact that God meets us where we are, no matter how messy or broken our lives may be.

The Manger: The manger, or feeding trough, where Jesus was laid after his birth, represents the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the sacrament of Holy Communion in which the Christian community consecrates and consumes bread and wine as the Body and Blood of Christ. The manger is a reminder that Jesus, the Bread of Life, was born in Bethlehem, which means “house of bread.”

Mary and Joseph: Mary and Joseph represent obedience and faith. God chose Mary to be the Mother of Jesus, and she willingly accepted this role. Joseph was a righteous man who obeyed God’s command to take Mary as his wife and raise Jesus as his own Son. Mary and Joseph exemplify obedience and faithfulness to God’s plan.

The Baby Jesus: Jesus is God Incarnate, which means “God in the flesh.” Jesus is fully God and fully human, and his birth was the beginning of God’s plan to save humanity from sin. The baby Jesus also represents the vulnerability and innocence of a newborn child and the love and care he received from his parents.

The Shepherds: The shepherds who visited Jesus after his birth represent the poor and the marginalized. Shepherds were considered outcasts in society, and yet they were the first to receive the news of Jesus’ birth. The shepherds remind us that Jesus came for all people, regardless of their social status or background.

The Animals: The animals in the Nativity scene represent the whole of creation. The ox and the donkey are often depicted as being present at the birth of Jesus, and they represent the domesticated animals that were present at the time. However, all animals are part of God’s creation, and their presence in the Nativity Scene reminds us that Jesus came to redeem all of creation, not just humanity.

The Star: The star of the Nativity Scene, also known as the Star of Bethlehem, is a symbol of hope and divine guidance. According to the Bible, it appeared in the sky to announce the birth of Jesus Christ to the three wise men. It represents the light of God shining down on the world and leading people to the path of salvation.

The Angels: The angels singing at the nativity symbolize hope and joy. They announce the good news that a Savior has been born to bring peace and salvation to all. The heavenly chorus announces the Birth of Jesus, the “Prince of Peace.” The angels’ singing also signifies the beginning of a new era and a renewed relationship between God and humanity.

And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Luke 2:13-14

When we set up our family’s Nativity scene or Crèche, we can remember the meaning behind each figure and element. They remind us of the humble beginnings of Jesus, the importance of family, and the miracle of God becoming man.

You can experience the beauty and significance of the Nativity Scene at The National Shrine of Mary, Mother of the Church’s Festival of Lights, between Nov. 23 and Jan. 7. One of the longest-running Christmas light displays at the Lake of the Ozarks, it is free and open to the public nightly, 5-10 pm. The festival features a stunning display of lights and a beautiful Nativity Scene. It’s a beautiful opportunity to come together with family and friends to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. You can click this link to learn more about this wonderful event.

Another event happening at The National Shrine of Mary, Mother of the Church this holiday season is the beautiful O Holy Night on Dec. 10. This event will feature a choir performing traditional Christmas carols and a Living Nativity with live people and animals. It’s a perfect way to get into the holiday spirit and celebrate the Birth of Jesus with others. You can learn more about this event by clicking this link.

“The Symbolism of the Nativity Scene.” Catholic Online. https://www.catholic.org/advent/nativity.php
“The Meaning of the Nativity Scene.” Our Sunday Visitor. https://www.osvnews.com/2019/12/16/the-meaning-of-the-nativity-scene/