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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Holy Nativity - Variations in Art

by Justin Mattison

For most Christians, the scene of the Holy Nativity is one of the most recognizable symbols during the Christmas season. Regardless of the variations, the concept remains the same; Jesus in the manger with the Holy Family at his side. In most cases, an ox and a donkey representing the people of Israel and the Gentiles are present, as well as the Magi, or Three Kings, as they are commonly recognized.

Where did this traditional approach of representing the birth of the Savior originate? It is said the Saint Francis of Assisi introduced three-dimensional nativity scenes upon returning to Italy from a trip to Egypt and Acre in 1220. It is rumored that he used statues and costumed people, however biographer Thomas of Celano noted that St. Francis merely used a straw-filled feeding trough (or manger) placed between a real donkey and ox. It is said that the manger was used as the alter for the Christmas Mass.

This tradition has spread the world over, with many different variations originating in all corners of the globe. In Provence, a town in the Southern Region of France, nativity scenes are made up of hundreds of small clay painted figurines, known as santons, and these represent the many different professions and traditional trades of Provence.

It is a Mexican tradition to build the nativity scene on December 16, which is the first day of Las Posadas, a nine-day celebration lasting until December 24 which is known as known as Noche Buena. Las Posadas is a symbol of the trials Mary and Joseph must have endured before finally finding a place to rest and give birth to Jesus. In select Central American countries, the nativity scene is a progressive build, where the baby Jesus is not added until December 24 and the Three Wise Men are not present until January 6, Three Kings' Day.

Today, the nativity scene is displayed in houses, yards, and churches all over the world. One of the most recognized crafters of fine quality nativity pieces is the Fontanini family, who have been in the business for four generations. Other crafters of quality nativity products include Joseph's Studio, Jim Marvin, Raz Imports, and Roman, Inc.

Justin Mattison is a copy editor for Mountain Media eCommerce Solutions in Upstate New York.

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