You probably already have a Crèche as one of your Christmas decorations that comes out sometime during Advent. But did you know that this “decoration” can serve as a focal point during Advent and be the center of some family Advent activities?
At our home, we enter into Advent with a few simple decorations: an Advent wreath, a Jesse Tree, our Advent Calendar, and our Crèche. I try to just have this be the prominent decoration throughout our house until Christmas. (And I’m not always a Liturgical Snob about this–it’s hard to resist that Christmas spirit and I slowly start to get the rest of the Christmas decor out. For example, all our St. Nicks come out on the Feast of St. Nicholas and our Christmas lights go up on the Feast of St. Lucy! We do usually hold out on putting up the tree until the last weekend in Advent)
Back to the Crèche.
Can there be any better decoration to represent this season? With one addition — I mean subtraction. I always keep baby Jesus hidden somewhere until Christmas morning.
Funny story. One Christmas I forgot where I hid baby Jesus. I eventually found the Babe during Lent. He wasn’t reunited with his mother until the following Christmas.
I also put the Wise Men on a bookshelf, far from the Crèche. Occasionally, I move these fellas around. They don’t make their way to the Creche until Epiphany — 12 days after Christmas.
So can you see what fun this little Christmas pageant is?
Another fun thing to do to remind younger children to prepare for Jesus’ coming is to collect straw to go in the manger and stable. Keep a box of straw near the stable, and when your child does some good deed, he gets to put a piece of straw in the manger or in your stable. This is one way we can make baby Jesus very happy and prepare for His coming—and don’t we want a soft and warm stable and manger for Him? The more straw the better! Yellow paper cut into strips can work for the straw, or I always decorate for fall with a bale of straw, and I use some of this. It gives your Crèche a nice barn smell.
When you put your Crèche out or when it starts to get full of straw, it would be a great time to tell the tale of St. Francis and the first Crèche. St. Bonaventure (d. 1274) in his Life of St. Francis of Assisi tells the story the best:
It happened in the third year before his death, that in order to excite the inhabitants of Greccio to commemorate the nativity of the Infant Jesus with great devotion, [St. Francis] determined to keep it with all possible solemnity; and lest he should be accused of lightness or novelty, he asked and obtained the permission of the sovereign Pontiff. Then he prepared a manger, and brought hay, and an ox and_an ass to the place appointed.
The brethren were summoned, the people ran together, the forest resounded with their voices, and that venerable night was made glorious by many and brilliant lights and sonorous psalms of praise. The man of God [St. Francis] stood before the manger, full of devotion and piety, bathed in tears and radiant with joy; the Holy Gospel was chanted by Francis, the Levite of Christ. Then he preached to the people around the nativity of the poor King; and being unable to utter His name for the tenderness of His love, He called Him the Babe of Bethlehem. A certain valiant and veracious soldier, Master John of Grecio, who, for the love of Christ, had left the warfare of this world, and become a dear friend of this holy man, affirmed that he beheld an Infant marvelously beautiful, sleeping in the manger, Whom the blessed Father Francis embraced with both his arms, as if he would awake Him from sleep. This vision of the devout soldier is credible, not only by reason of the sanctity of him that saw it, but by reason of the miracles which afterwards confirmed its truth.
For example of Francis, if it be considered by the world, is doubtless sufficient to excite all hearts which are negligent in the faith of Christ; and the hay of that manger, being preserved by the people, miraculously cured all diseases of cattle, and many other pestilences; God thus in all things glorifying his servant, and witnessing to the great efficacy of his holy prayers by manifest prodigies and miracles.
There are some children’s versions of this story. You will probably find A Gift from St. Francis: The First Crèche by Joanna Cole at your library. This is one of our favorites.
A final idea that we do in our family, is that instead of one Crèche, we actually have two. Our family Crèche sits in our living room, low enough for all to see, but high enough so that young hands cannot touch — it seems that sheep are irresistible. This one is valuable and breakable. On a lower shelf, we have another Crèche that is totally hands on. It’s made of tough plastic that many hands have used to play out the nativity story.
If you don’t have either a playing Crèche or a fancy one, this would make a great Christmas or St. Nicholas gift. Some families have even started their nicer Crèche with just the Holy Family and then every year, add another piece.
How can you make the Crèche more prominent in your Advent this year so that the true meaning of Christmas won’t get lost in the glitter, snowmen, and reindeer?
Copyright 2019 Tami Kiser